Facebook Search To Become A Reality As The Semantic Search Race Hots Up?

Facebook Search

Image Credit: socialfresh.com

For quite some time now it has been mooted that Facebook could do a search engine. They have terabytes of information on billions of subjects and, perhaps more importantly, millions of people.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has tried to use the search box on Facebook itself knows, the company has no clue whatsoever about returning search results. In other words, what they lack is a decent set of search algorithms.

It came as some surprise then, that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that creating a Facebook search engine is something they could do in the future and that they have a team working on it.
Speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF event, Zuck revealed that Facebook receives one billion queries a day, though he didn’t say how many of those searches were satisfactorily met…I reckon about 10%.

Search is moving on. Returning results based on web page relevance is no longer enough. People want answers to specific questions, not an algorithm’s best guess at a site that might contain those answers.

Google SERP ResultGoogle is trying hard to make semantic search, as it is known, a reality. Try searching for “$100 in pounds” and Google does give you the answer, but this is pretty basic stuff. Search for a celebrity now and you get a nice little info box (see image, right) with some details, usually gleaned from Wikipedia, with some additional, related search options. Again, all pretty basic and still with the standard SERPs.

But it does show the way search is going. The next step is to not only return relevant answers to search queries, but answers that are actually geared to what you like, what your friends like and what is, essentially, going to be the most relevant result there can possibly be.

This is where Google has trouble and where Facebook has an advantage. Google really knows very little about you personally. Sure, it has your search history and limited data on your online activities on its own properties but that’s as far as it goes. It certainly knows next to nothing about who your friends and family are, what they like and do and it has no real way of linking the two together to successfully return results based on that information.

Facebook, on the other hand, knows a hell of a lot about you. It knows who your closest friends are, who your family is and how often you interact with them, it knows what shared interests you, your friends and your family have. It knows what music you like, what films you prefer, what games you play, what activities you enjoy and much, much more.

Facebook has all the relevant information it needs to return true semantic search results that are geared at YOU – not the original search.

Google needs to catch up in this area and that’s why it is putting so much effort – so far comparatively unsuccessfully – into Google+, its own social network. Google wants you to share the same type and volume of information as you do on Facebook so it has the same level of information on you, specifically so it can give you the most relevant answers to your searches as it can.

Google+’s integration into every Google product is a great way of going about this. Unfortunately, people are unwilling to shift from the dominant social network – Facebook – to Google+. That or they are still completely unaware of it in the first place. That’s Google’s challenge.

Facebook’s challenge is quite different. While it has pretty much everything it needs to know about you – and it’s still learning – the company has more than 10 years of catching up to do in terms of developing search algorithms that work.

Trying to search for a Facebook Page via the search box on the site is a frustrating experience. I manage quite a few Facebook Pages on behalf of our social media clients so you would think that, as an admin of the Page, when I search for it by name it would be the most relevant result to me. Facebook thinks differently and returns unrelated stuff I have no interest in. And not even a lot of that.

It knows I’m an admin but doesn’t deem that enough to return it as a result when I search by name. That is retarded search, not relevant search, and it underlines just how far Facebook has to go before it can even think about introducing a search engine of its own.

Now imagine Google’s proven, advanced and world beating algorithms teamed with Facebook’s in depth, intimate knowledge of you, everything about you and those connected to you. Powerful stuff, isn’t it.

Imagine searching for “good Indian restaurant in Manchester” and receiving three results, each with a location map, contact details, a downloadable menu, a plethora of reviews from the general public and ranked by how many, who and how often your friends and relatives have been and what they thought of it, along with pictures they’ve taken and comments they’ve made about it – anywhere.

You’d have everything you need to make a decision on where to eat dinner that evening without having to make another click or read another web page. (And yes, I’m aware of the privacy issues this raises, but that’s for another post!)

That’s the Holy Grail for Google, Facebook and others like Wolfram|Alpha and it’s one they are all, it now appears, reaching for. I’ll be bold enough to say that whoever reaches it first will dominate the search scene for the next 10-20 years.

And let’s not kid ourselves. All these companies are in the business of making money and as Google has shown us, search is a HUGE money maker. Facebook is desperate to wow investors and recover its share value. Serving ads on mobile is the immediate goal but serving ads on the world’s most popular and useful search engine would be even more successful in this aim.

It’s no surprise, then, that Facebook wants to get into search and it certainly has one side of the equation in place. I’d argue that building a set of algorithms that work will prove a marginally easier task than compiling the personal data required to run true semantic search so maybe Facebook has the advantage, albeit a slim one, over Google. It also has a very close relationship with Microsoft and their Bing search engine – that’s always worth bearing in mind…

Either way, when Facebook actually announces it’s entering the semantic search race you’re going to see things heat up a lot.

Who do you think will win the race and would you use a Facebook search engine?

Ben Greenwood
  • Written by on 12th September 2012 at 12:36
  • “Ben Greenwood is an SEO & social media consultant at Fluid Creativity. Ben can regularly be found blogging about all things digital and is a self-confessed Twitter addict.”
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  • Judge Gresham

    Facebook should buy Vertical Search Works / Convera Technologies. Great technology that would really kick start the fun!

    • Ben Greenwood

      Do they have a strong set of search algorithms that Facebook can use? I fear they’ll try piggybacking on Bing as the cheap option. Bad move…

  • Judge Gresham

    Facebook should buy Vertical Search Works / Convera Technologies. Great technology that would really kick start the fun!

    • Ben Greenwood

      Do they have a strong set of search algorithms that Facebook can use? I fear they’ll try piggybacking on Bing as the cheap option. Bad move…