Facebook creates internal search engine

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Facebook will now allow users to search public posts and conversations.
Facebook will now allow users to search public posts and conversations.

Facebook is making search within its network much easier. It is introducing search features that will allow users to track real-time news and search through all public posts.

The new feature, Search FYI, will be rolled out in the US in English on iOS, Android and desktop. Other regions should follow soon.

"With over 1.5 billion searches per day and over two trillion posts in our index, search is an important, long-term effort at Facebook," says Tom Stocky, Facebook VP of search.

Stocky says users turn to Facebook to see how their friends and family are reacting, when something happens in the world. He says the search function was developed so this could be taken further and users could search all public posts, to get a clearer picture of what is going on.

"It remains to be seen whether search will be a killer feature," says Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx. "The search functionality of Facebook, rather than what one can search, is in dire need of repair. Until it has a better search interface, it can't have much better search.

"There is a fundamental difference between searching for information on Google, which indexes most pages, and searching within posts on Facebook, which are typically personal perspectives, views and posts.

"It is a long way from replacing Google, as the latter is an information resource, while the former remains primarily a social resource."

There are three ways the social network is improving search:

1. Better search suggestions: Facebook will start autocompleting search queries, like Google does, when typed into the search box. However, the suggestions will be personalised and include information from Facebook friends and trending topics on the network.

2. Search results with public posts and posts from friends: Search results will be organised by the most recent, relevant public posts along with posts from friends. There will also be a pull-to-refresh option to load the latest public posts.

3. Find public conversations with search: Users are able to search popular links on Facebook and the public conversations that surround them. The search function will highlight popular quotes and phrases mentioned in these posts, and give an aggregate overview of the sentiment.

Users are able to use the search function in similar ways to rival Google search. For example, a user is able to search a friend's name, such as Emma, and place a comma in between the name and the post they are looking for, such as 'chocolate cake'. The results will then show chocolate cake recipes posted by friends named Emma.

Public vs private

The new search function raises privacy concerns for all Facebook users, as the feature searches through all posts that are marked as public.

However, Stocky says: "You can control who can see your posts on Facebook and it's easy to change the audience of your past posts any time.

"Your search results are personalised and unique to you and, as always, you can only see things that have been shared with you."

Turning posts to private or 'friends only' can be accessed through the settings option.

Previous attempt

This is not the first time the social network has tried to incorporate search into the platform. In 2013, Facebook launched Graph Search, which allowed users to type in phrases like "friends who work in Johannesburg" and the relevant information, depending on which users opted to make that public, would come up.

Mike Sharman, owner of digital communications agency Retroviral, said at the time that Graph Search was Facebook's step towards challenging Web search giant Google.

"Graph Search is a big attempt to keep people on Facebook as long as possible. The longer you have eyeballs there, the more attractive you become to advertisers."

However, Graph Search did not gain traction and was phased out at the end of last year.

Last week, the social network started experimenting with its main app to make video more prominent while incorporating similar features from video rival, YouTube.

In South Africa, Facebook has grown its user base by 8% in the past year, from 12 million to 13 million, according to the SA Social Media Landscape Report 2015.

Search FYI from Facebook on Vimeo.

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