Facebook’s new search service set to challenge Google, Twitter

The service will effectively turn Facebook into a powerful real-time discovery engine for news, while using the same technology which powers its Trending Topics feature Facebook is battling with Twitter and others to be the key source of news and conversations about news topics, especially for people on mobile devices.In an apparent bid to take on rivals Google and Twitter, Facebook has updated its search to include over 2 trillion posts. Search, Facebook says, is an “important, long-term effort” for the social media network. On Thursday, it launched ‘Search FYI’, a service that allows users to find anything from its vast index, including public posts, both by people (who may or may not be on your friends’ list) and content posted by people and brands on their official Pages.

“We’re updating Facebook Search so that in addition to friends and family, you can find out what the world is saying about topics that matter to you,” Tom Stocky, Facebook’s vice-president of search, said in a press release.The service will effectively turn Facebook into a powerful real-time discovery engine for news, while using the same technology which powers its Trending Topics feature.

For a start, Facebook’s search will throw better suggestions. “When you tap into the search box and start typing, we’ll now offer timely, personalized search suggestions. As you type, we’ll highlight things that are happening right now so you can follow popular stories as they unfold.” The service, it says, would also show users “the most recent, relevant public posts along with posts from your friend.”Search resuts, it said, would be organized better to help users cut through the clutter and “quickly understand what the world is saying about a topic in the moment.” The personalized results, according to a  “will be broken up to highlight posts from trusted news sources, followed by people in your network, lists of the most popular links or quotes about a topic, and then strangers.”Search FYI would also enable users to dive into an interesting public discussion, which Facebook said is anchored by a widely-shared link on Facebook. “With one tap, you can find public posts about a link, see popular quotes and phrases mentioned in these posts, and check out an aggregate overview of sentiment.”

Search FYI could well end up being a game changer for Facebook. With the new service, Facebook is also pitting itself against the big giant of search — Google by positioning itself as the “source for news.” While Google has been indexing the world’s information, Facebook aims at indexing all the world’s conversations. According to company figures, more than 1.5 billion search requests are made every day on Facebook. Compare this with Google which last updated its search figure in 2012 and was averaging 3.3 billion searches per day and over 38,000 thousand per second.The service could potentially increase user engagement on Facebook as the user may not exactly feel the need to exit the site/app to find news elsewhere, say Google or Twitter. The increase in user engagement from the new search, might open up new levels of debate and discussion on Facebook, lending it more traffic and in turn, benefit its vast advertising clientele, leading to more ad revenue.

In the search business, it is understood that queries often show user intent, which, as the Google case shows, can in turn be used to sell keyword-based ads. While monetization of Search FYI may not be a priority just yet, the service should help Facebook in the long-term. Earlier this year, it announced in-app search. Search FYI, in many ways, represents a big leap for Facebook in its quest to create a complete search ecosystem, much like Google does. “Today’s update gives Facebook a holistic internal search engine. Before, it was good for nostalgia, looking up funny things friends said or cool photos they posted. Now, it’s a discovery engine for real-time news that’s just slipped out of the future into the present,” according to the TechCrunch story.Search FYI, according to what the company says, also resembles Twitter’s search facility, which indexes all the tweets about a particular event, either through a hashtag, or simply through search terms. Facebook’s Search FYI is also seen as a challenge to Twitter, especially, its recently-launched curated news tab called Twitter Moments.The Street points out that the “move toward curated content, based on individual subjects and hashtags represents an effort by social media to make their vast repositories of information more available to their users.” It goes on to say that “the algorithms that will do the curating will likely be another point of stress for Facebook’s advertisers, who already have to contend with the opaque algorithms that determine what users see in their news feeds. “

But is the new search feature merely what experts call an echo chamber? “You don’t just see what your friends and people around you are saying. You see the stories of people on the ground. It gives us a different level of perspective,” Stocky was quoted as saying by TechCrunch.

Stocky said that Facebook engineers had to create a system, called “Live Updates” that combs the social network and tracks changes to posts. “All of these things have to be reflected in the in the search results within seconds or minutes,” he was quoted as saying by WSJ.

For the user, however, Facebook’s powerful search engine could become a privacy nightmare. It’s new search tool raises concerns of privacy as users would now be able to search through any posts that have been marked “public”. Managing this may not be so difficult, according to the company, as Facebook allows users to change their privacy settings so posts can be shared with “Friends” or with a custom audience. But Stocky warns that Facebook posts are also updated “billions of times” whenever users comment or like them. So users would need to keep a close eye on any posts they may have shared publicly in the past and do not want the whole world to view as it may come within the ambit of the new search tool and may get them in trouble.

But for billions of people, Google is still synonymous with search. It’s anybody’s guess if Facebook can change the game.


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