Zuckerberg Opens Up About Facebook Search

Chris CrumSearch

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As you may know, Facebook greatly expanded its search offerings last month when it launched the ability to search posts. You can now search keywords and get back results from people and pages you're connected to. It instantly made Facebook a lot more useful as a search tool because it gives you access to content that's not getting indexed by Google. This is often content that's particularly relevant based on your personal connections to its creators.

Have you been using Facebook's new search functionality? Let us know in the comments.

For example, you can easily find your friends' posts about soup to get some ideas for your next soup batch. If you have one friend in particular that you consider a soup whiz, you can easily find his or her soup posts.

There's a lot of speculation about where Facebook might be headed with search. Facebook released its Q4 and full year 2014 earnings on Wednesday. During the conference call that followed, CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked a little bit about the company's search efforts.

While Zuckerberg didn't exactly drop any bombshells, he did offer his thoughts on the company's search direction. From his prepared remarks (via SeekingAlpha's transcript):

Search at Facebook is another important effort that we expect to create a lot of value over the next few years. In this quarter, we launched updates to Facebook search to make it easier to find content and posts on mobile and desktop. We’re going to continue listening the feedback from our community and commit time to build really valuable products here. We’re optimistic about our ability to deliver value that only Facebook is able to provide.

During the Q&A session, Zuckerberg was asked to talk more about Facebook's approach to search. He said:

So, our view on this is that there is a lot of unique content that people have shared in Facebook, a lot of personal content, recommendations from friends that you can get that you just wouldn’t be able to get through a traditional web search service or other app. And we’re on this multiyear voyage to basically index all the content and make it available to people and rank it well. We started off by launching graph search which I think included more than a trillion different connections in the first system.

And the second round of the search progress that we just started rolling out at the end of last year was post search, which now has indexed more than I think a trillion posts, which I mean the sizes of these corpuses are bigger than anything in a traditional web search corpus that you would find. So it’s an interesting and fun challenge to make this work. We’re seeing that people immediately understand how they can use this and find content that they've seen in News Feed before or that they’ve posted with just a few keywords.

And we’re excited about that, but there is a lot more to do. So we’re not really thinking about advertising in it yet on the scale that our community operates, a billion searches per day is actually not that big compared to what we think the opportunity here should be. And we’re just continuing to keep on working on it because there is just a lot of unique value that people should be able to get [from] their friends on Facebook search.

Earlier this week, search marketing veteran Rand Fishkin shared his thoughts on the direction of Facebook search after predicting that the company will start to include web content in its search results this year (in a different way than it has done in the past with Bing).

“With Bing, Facebook was simply showing external results (like a metasearch engine),” he said. “I think if they use their own crawlers to gather data and a system to serve it, there will be a more holistic, cohesive experience, likely biased/filtered by some of the things Facebook knows about the user(s) doing the searching.”

On whether or not Facebook's recent search improvements are having a significant impact on how people find information so far, and whether or not they will in the future, Fiskhin told us, “No, and I think in the next few years, the answer will continue to be mostly no (at least if we’re talking about websearch kinds of information vs. ‘where’s my friend’s party Friday night?’ or ‘What does so-and-so’s new boyfriend look like?’). But, long term, I think there’s a possibility. If their early efforts show promise and a direction, I think we can extrapolate from there. For now, I’m not sold.”

Facebook has been releasing a lot of standalone apps. Among these are dedicated apps for messaging, for managing Pages, and for Groups. Would they launch a dedicated search app? Should they?

“No and probably no,” Fishkin said. “I think Facebook’s castle is their social graph and the private postings of people to whom other people are connected. They should continue to release products and apps that help build that moat, but for right now, broad search doesn’t fit that world, IMO.”

Regardless of whether or not people are actively using it as such, Facebook search gives users new ways of obtaining information. This must mean that businesses, who have suffered drastic declines in organic reach in the News Feed, have some new opportunities to get in front of those actually searching. Fishkin’s advice is as follows.

“Do remarkable things that people on Facebook want to talk about and share,” Fishkin said. “And if that’s too much, at least make sure all your business details are as up-to-date and accurate as possible on Facebook, and that you’re sharing things your followers/fans on that network will actually care about (even if that’s only a few times a year). Just make sure you don’t make Facebook the center of your online promotional efforts – save that for your website and use Facebook to drive traffic to it. You should never build your castle in someone else’s walled garden.”

Video was a focal point of much of Facebook's earnings call. We shared some highlights on that subject over here.

If Facebook search becomes as big as the company would like it to, that could be a very damaging thing for YouTube, as it currently rules video search. With more people opting to post videos directly to Facebook and watch them there, searching for videos could also become much more common on the social network.

Do you expect Facebook to make a significant impact on how people find information? Let us know in the comments.

Image via Facebook

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.