Well, here we go. Facebook is doing search.
Facebook revealed "Graph Search" today at its event in California. CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that this is not "web search".
"We are not indexing the web," he says. "We are indexing our map of the graph, which is really big and constantly changing. Almost a million new people every day. 240 billion photos. 1 billion people. 1 trillion connections."
"Friend connections, locations, likes, comments, tags, it all adds up to indexing all this content and making it so you can retrieve it instantaneously is a really hard technical problem."
The offering will appear as a bigger search bar at the top of the page, and when you search for something, you can actually retitle the search results page as you see fit.
"Graph Search and web search are very different," the company says. "Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: 'hip hop') and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: 'my friends in New York who like Jay-Z') to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that's been shared on Facebook. We believe they have very different uses."
"Another big difference from web search is that every piece of content on Facebook has its own audience, and most content isn't public," the company adds. "We’ve built Graph Search from the start with privacy in mind, and it respects the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook. It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook."
OK, so Facebook isn't doing web search (yet). That doesn't mean that this couldn't represent a significant threat to Google in the way that other types of search and information discovery tools pose a threat. Amazon, for example, has been taking away a significant amount of product searches that would have once been performed at Google.
Google has been doing its damnedest to provide you with relevant social search results, but we all knew this would not be possible without Facebook, as long as Facebook is the dominant social network that it has become. When Google lost the Twitter firehose, that only complicated things further. Twitter Search can be thought of as another one of these information discovery tools that could be viewed, collectively, as a threat to Google's dominance in search. Facebook, obviously, is a big piece of the puzzle.
Even still, this doesn't look like a Google killer by any stretch of the imagination, but a handy Facebook tool? Perhaps. It's no secret that search on Facebook has pretty much been a joke up until this point.
And if you're looking for web search from Facebook, it still has Bing.
In terms of Google losing any search market share, it's really about Google losing more queries for different types of searches - people's decreased reliance on Google for finding information.
Let's also remember that Facebook's mission is to "Make the world more open and connected," as opposed to Google's, which is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible." Those are pretty different, and today's offering definitely fits more into Facebook's plan. Facebook considers Graph Search "a new way to navigate these connections and make them more useful".
Graph Search is in limited beta. The company notes that it's still in "very early development". It's only available in English, and currently only works for a subset of content on Facebook. Posts and open graph actions aren't available yet (though Facebook says it will be working on these in the coming months). It currently focuses on people, places, photos and interests.
The company also says that mobile, more languages, and the open graph are on the agenda for the future. Once it has all of that, it's going to be a lot more powerful feature, without question. Think about the open graph, specifically, and how many sites on the web are connected to Facebook. Hint: it's quite a few.
Right now, you have to go here to sign up to join a waiting list to use the feature. When you sign up, Facebook tells you you'll see an announcement on Facebook, and you can switch to the new experience.
Facebook says the roll out will be slow so they can see how people use it, and make improvements accordingly.
For privacy implications of Graph Search, read this.