Facebook Should Be Better at Search

December 28th, 2009 11 Comments

I don’t use Facebook much anymore. It’s become polluted with spam and annoying social games, not really my cup of tea.

Even so, as far as I know, Facebook is the de facto way to connect with people you’ve lost touch with over the years. While attempting to do this for a few people from the days of wayback whom I assumed *must* have made it onto Facebook by now, I came to a realization:

Facebook fails at people search, but it really should rock.

Try searching for a name that’s relatively common, i.e. not as common as Frank Jones, but more common than say, Jake Kuramoto. You’ll get a dump of names, probably more than 200 and less than 5,000. Not a very easy list to scan for that long-lost pal, and without a picture, you have no idea if you know the person or not.

Facebook knows a lot about me from my profile, so why aren’t they applying that demographic information to my search?

Based on my age or the fact that I graduated from college in the 90s, the results should be weighted by age, i.e. I’m more likely to be looking for Frank Joneses who are close to my age than for those who haven’t graduated from high school.

Sure, I know Facebook search pushes some results higher, so maybe their algorithm is smarter than I think. Still, I’ll bet it could be a lot better if they mined user data and applied it to ranking results.

Facebook’s aspirations go way beyond just owning social. Since before the service became ubiquitous, they’ve been trying to become an internet within the Internet.

Imagine how much better Bing’s results within Facebook would be if you applied a social layer to them?

Yeah, this would definitely cause an uproar if they were forced to show the details of the algorithm, but since everyone agrees to the terms of service and the result is better search, how many users would care?

This is much different than pushing people to make updates public, since the data and algorithm would presumably all reside only on Facebook’s servers and would be subject to the user’s privacy settings.

It’s weird to me that Facebook is pushing people toward making their data public, when they could keep data private and make real headway against Google.

Most people would appreciate the improved ability to find people, and they might switch over to searching the web with Facebook, finding better results from the addition of a personal dimension.

Social search is the future, but it shouldn’t be public. That violates an implicit contract people have with social networking providers.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think Facebook could produce really good results based on the social data they have collected. This might not reconvert me to a Facebook junkie, but then again, it might.

What do you think? Find the comments.


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11 Responses to “Facebook Should Be Better at Search”

  1. surachart Says:

    I'm not sure about facebook search. I hope facebook could make privacy between groups.
    why I think like that . I use facebook to communicate with someone work like me, friends and … I use it to play games.

  2. jpiwowar Says:

    I agree with your “social search as next big thing” premise, and can see the value of social/personalized search. My inner cynic, however, completely understands the reason for Facebook failing at people search. Helping end users succeed at people search is low-leverage, particularly at this point in Facebook's evolution. Consider: Everyone and their cat is pretty much already on Facebook. Those coming late to the party are probably joining at the invitation of a friend/co-worker/relative who's already connected. By the time the n00b gets done mining his addressbook and his inviter's already-established network for contacts, he's already hooked. If he decides to go searching for long-lost high school buddies in between uploading profile pics and virtually sending people beers/slapping people with fish, then while he's crawling through page after 20-record-at-a-time page of “John Smiths,” Facebook is serving up lots of ads. The searcher might get bored with the search, but he's less likely to abandon the site altogether.

    I'm guessing that there are already algorithms in place or at least in the works for social search that will actually help FB make money. :)

  3. Daily Digest for December 28th | My Blog Says:

    […] Shared Facebook Should Be Better at Search. […]

  4. Jake Says:

    I just think their search is horrible and should be awesome. I'll bet you'd use it more if it were really good. As the biggest collection of profiles around, you'd think they would use all that UGC to get a leg up on Google in areas where it hurts, like search and advertising.

  5. Jake Says:

    They should be better at both search and advertising, both of which suck right now. These areas just so happen to be the ones where Google built an empire, and not by accident.

    Classically, Google knows stuff about you based on your keyword searches. They serve you ads, you find stuff for free. Win.

    Facebook should do a better job at this because their data are much better about you b/c you told them. Google has to guess and make assumptions. Case in point: searching for animal traps doesn't mean you're a hunter. Google doesn't know you're a member of the SPCA, but Facebook might.

    Sure, users are hooked, but they don't live in Facebook. That's MZ's goal. With awesome search (for people and web) and targeted ads, they could provide a viable replacement for Google.

  6. Jim Says:

    Good point about Facebook. I find the people search pretty useless. It's a bit like not being able to find books easily on Amazon…

  7. Jake Says:

    Good comparison. Beyond rocking awesome people search, the search and profile metadata should make their web searches rock too. If you're MSFT, you face an uphill battle with Bing vs. Google, so why not change the playing field to provide better search results with a social dimension?

  8. Gary Says:

    “I’m more likely to be looking for Frank Joneses who are close to my age than for those who haven’t graduated from high school.”
    Not convinced on 'age' profiling. I think it would be more effective based on a 'degree of separation'. If you know 'Fred' and 'Fred' knows 'Tom' and 'Tom' knows a 'Frank Jones', then there's a good chance it is the same Frank (and more so if you and Tom have other friends in common. Maybe you actually know Tom but actively don't want him as a facebook friend).

  9. Jake Says:

    Sure, that works too. They still fail at search and should be better, regardless of the algorithm specifics.

  10. Gary Says:

    “I’m more likely to be looking for Frank Joneses who are close to my age than for those who haven’t graduated from high school.”
    Not convinced on 'age' profiling. I think it would be more effective based on a 'degree of separation'. If you know 'Fred' and 'Fred' knows 'Tom' and 'Tom' knows a 'Frank Jones', then there's a good chance it is the same Frank (and more so if you and Tom have other friends in common. Maybe you actually know Tom but actively don't want him as a facebook friend).

  11. Jake Says:

    Sure, that works too. They still fail at search and should be better, regardless of the algorithm specifics.

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