It’s taken a while, but I finally have time to rewrite the post I wrote this morning about Facebook search. For some reason my blog editor ate the post, something that has never happened to me and really threw me off.
In any case, this morning I noticed a post on Mashable about Facebook’s new “superfresh” search plans – in essence, a plan to make the Facebook newsfeed searchable, and most impressively, to filter that through your social graph. In short, this is a Twitter search competitor with a Facebook twist, and while I think it’s a fine move, it’s nowhere near where Facebook needs to be in terms of search, and it seems a bit myopic: Facebook is way more than its newsfeed, and its search play is key to proving that value, and extending it.
First, a minor rant. Facebook search circa 2009 is akin to Alta Vista search circa 1994, or Ebay search circa 2004: very dumb and entirely lacking in structured, intelligently parsed data. In fact, it’s worse that those two examples. It’s clear that there are almost no intelligent signals in the way Facebook does its internal search, and I can’t imagine anyone is happy with it. A few examples:
Here’s a search for “john battelle status” as of today. There are no results. How on earth can that be? Not even a referral to my status updates? The engine clearly doesn’t understand the concept of “status” which on Facebook, seems a crime.
Here’s another one:
This is a search for “graffiti application”. It does not find the popular application, Grafitti, which has more than 10 million installs and over 2 million active users. Whaaaa?
I could go on and on, but that’s not the point. The point is, Facebook search could get a lot better. And I am *sure* the company is deep in planning on how to take its search to a new level – no small feat, given the size and scope of its service. No doubt building Facebook search today is akin to building Google ten years ago – bigger, most likely, in terms of data, algorithmic, and platform challenges.
So given the company is working on it, let’s give them some input. What do we want it to be? Here are a few ideas I have, I’d love to hear yours:
- Leverage the social graph in search. When people search for other people (most likely the highest percentage use case on Facebook), show me that person’s friends. Linked In does a very good job of search features like this, and is only getting better at it.
- Rethink how results are presented. Currently, it’s all about pages on Facebook. Why? Why not think about search results in a similar manner to how we all understand search – multiple results, easily scanned, with short descriptors of what the link will bring us? There’s a lot of room to innovate on top of this interface, but it’s table stakes at least.
- Make search social. Show me what others are searching for, trending searches on the service, popular “found” items. Search is a signal, use it!
- Make search results linkable. When I do a search on Google, I can link to it. Here’s a link to a Google search for “graffiti application,” for example. And yes, the first result is the right one…
- Give me image search. I want to see pictures related to the results – Facebook is a highly visual service, so surface that!
- Integrate Facebook Connect. How cool would that be, to see results from websites that have integrated Facebook?
These are off the top of my head (for the second time – I had others that I cannot recall…), but you get the picture. What do you want to see in Facebook search?