While Facebook has continued to grow and expand in almost all aspects, one of their biggest challenges has been on-platform search. Their most comprehensive effort to date on this front, Graph Search, was de-emphasized at the end of 2014 due to privacy and accuracy concerns, and stripped back to a much more basic version which focused more on finding content that you’d seen before from your friends, as opposed to expanded discovery across Facebook’s network. But despite the challenges, search remains a key element in Facebook’s long-term plans – something Mark Zuckerberg himself reiterated in their most recent earnings call:
“With Search, we’re continuing to build a better experience for our whole community. We recently crossed 1.5 billion searches per day and we’ve now indexed more than two trillion posts. This is a huge set of unique experiences and perspectives, and by allowing people to unlock this knowledge, we have a huge opportunity to create value for the world in coming years.”
Those numbers caught many off guard – that level of search activity presents a major opportunity. And now, Facebook’s looking to capitalize on this, with a big update to Facebook search which will help users uncover more relevant matches on The Social Network, looking not only at content from your immediate connections, but all publicly posted content, providing a much more comprehensive search experience.
As highlighted in the video, Facebook’s upgraded search functionality will now seek to better anticipate and locate more content relevant to each query. When you type in your search term/s, Facebook will provide matches based on trending discussions and issues, enabling better discovery across Facebook and helping users find relevant content and conversations. The new search will show you not only the best matches from your friends’ posts, but the results will also be categorized to help you find the most relevant and popular posts, as well as public comments.
That last part is important – as noted, previous iterations of Facebook search had focused on content from friends, and while this new feature will still uncover posts from your connections, you’ll also have more oversight of public posts, giving you access to more content and commentary. As noted by Josh Constine from TechCrunch, people should take note because “everything you’ve ever said will be much easier to find now” – anything you’ve posted publicly will be accessible in the search results.
What’s more, Facebook is also introducing a new, link-based search capacity, as noted in the official announcement:
“When a link gets shared widely on Facebook, it often anchors an interesting public conversation. Now there’s a new way to quickly dive into that discussion. 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. This feature is a first step—we look forward to people using it and giving us feedback so we can make it even better.”
You can see this new feature in action here – in a new ‘People Are Talking About’ breakout box, there’s a note on how many people are discussing each post, and you can click through to either the post itself or the related public discussion.
These are powerful additions, and it’ll be interesting to see if Facebook gives Instant Articles or other Facebook-originated content preferential treatment in their search results.
In some ways, the new features can be seen as a direct response to Twitter’s new ‘Moments’ tab, which gathers together all the relevant content on a given subject to help highlight the real-time conversation happening around that issue or event. Facebook’s new search features aim to do the same, highlighting the top posts on the platform, while also adding in any related content from your connections.
The new search features also look to bring additional order to Facebook’s search results. Oftentimes, when you conduct a Facebook search, the results are difficult to navigate, with a random matching of content from friends and extended connections. The new search will better categorize each element of the results (generally in this order: trusted news sources, related posts by friends, popular links, then public posts), while also making it easier to follow real-time discussions on Facebook, particularly with the addition of the pull-to-refresh option to see the latest public posts on each topic.
Facebook also notes that the search results are ‘personalized and unique to you’, whilst highlighting that privacy settings remain in-tact (“as always, you can only see things that have been shared with you”), seeking to ease concerns raised by previous search versions.
Expanded Facebook search capacity is a big step, bigger than many might realize, and it could have a major impact on how people use Facebook for discovery and insight into the wider world. While most people use the platform to connect with family and friends, the capacity to search wider, to see what more people are saying on any given topic, could lead to more on-platform discussion and interaction, and thus, more time spent within Facebook’s walls. Given The Social Network’s clear lead in active users, there’s no better place to get a feel for public sentiment, though at the moment, many turn to Twitter to join trending conversations and discussion, as the public nature of Twitter content is more conducive to that ‘town square’ feel. By opening up Facebook through search, they might be able to take some of that conversation and bring it back into the Facebook feed.
The new Facebook search is being rolled out from today – if you don’t have it yet, you will soon.