On Monday, Facebook pushed a new search feature into full release.
The feature allows people to search the stream of information their friends share by keyword. Want to see what people are saying about the TV show Mad Men even if they aren’t your friends? Just type it into the search box. You’ll get a list of items your friends have posted mentioning the show, as well as posts from other Facebook users — even those you aren’t connected to — as long as they’re public.
To prepare for this day, Facebook has been encouraging people to share more information publicly by tweaking its default settings. They have made it easier for developers to plug Facebook features into their own media and entertainment properties so that more of that content will show up – and become searchable — in the stream too. On Monday, Facebook also acquired FriendFeed, another social-media-sharing service, whose search technology has received much acclaim.
It isn’t the search Web users are used to from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, which crawl the broader Web. Facebook’s new search feature won’t get you the Wikipedia entry on North Korea, the weather in Cleveland or the local pizza places within a block of your office — that is, unless someone happened to have referenced those things in a post. Of course, Facebook also surfaces Web search results through a deal with Microsoft. Whether the two products will eventually blend remains unclear.
Still, the improved search products could get people spending more time on the site and give advertisers more ways to target those users. Google has made billions off matching advertisers to potential customers based on the intentions users express in a search box. Facebook, which has yet to announce any new ad products around the new search feature, wants a piece of that pie too.
The other search engines aren’t sitting still. In an interview last month, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said Google is working to improve the freshness and presentation of its search results and is considering ways to better search the troves of user-generated content, from blogs and YouTube comments, tucked across its services.
On Monday, the search giant also unveiled a new version of its search service based on a new Google infrastructure. Google isn’t saying exactly what’s different with the new version, but that it is designed to help the company “push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.”
So, Google’s tweaking under the hood and Facebook is giving its user interface a search facelift.
Both surely have their eye on Twitter, which is taking a big stab at providing new ways to search its volumes of tweets. Twitter was early to the game, purchasing Summize, a company that searched Twitter before Twitter searched Twitter. But today, the feature still only searches the tweets that flow through the service.