Facebook is expanding its search to include all public posts, a move designed to give people a new way to dive into live and unfolding events.
Unlike Google, which often answers "What I want" questions — what I want to buy, for example, or what I want to learn — Facebook's search of public posts is especially useful for "What is happening?" queries.
Take the refugee crisis, for instance. Someone who wants to learn more about the plight of people leaving troubled areas of the world will now be able to learn from firsthand posts on Facebook in addition to — or perhaps instead of — reading news stories told by third parties.
Already, "I have a sense for what I think about that based on the news stories I've read, I understand what my friends think about that," Facebook search VP Tom Stocky said regarding the refugee crisis. "This [search] is a way to see posts, photos and videos of people who are on the ground in various parts of Europe that are sharing their thoughts and posts about these things. It's a powerful way to see what people and what the world is saying about something that's happening right now."
Facebook is making a number of new product tweaks to highlight relevant public posts in search.
It's moving the section of the suggested post searches when you start typing in the search field (now with public posts too) from the bottom to the top of the suggested searches. It is introducing a new page when you click on search suggestions that displays a summary of the topic when it's trending and top posts from authoritative sources, friends, groups, and strangers — in that order.
It also is creating a tab of "latest posts" showing the most recent posts mentioning search terms in real time. It is releasing a new "people are talking about" module within search results, showing links people are sharing related to the search query. And it's creating results pages built around these links where a summary, selection of popular quotations from the story, and discussion of it on Facebook are all aggregated.
Of course, it's not all limited to the here and now. Facebook product manager Rousseau Kazi described searching about the death of Steve Jobs, for example. That would lead to a results page filled with stories from October 5, 2011, the date of Jobs' death, along with posts filled with personal reactions to his passing and recollections from people who knew him. Stocky also said he's searched public posts for stroller recommendations.
But current events are clearly the focus. "The thing we worked to optimize it and make it really good for is around the 'What's happening right now?'" Stocky said.
Whether that approach creates a meaningful search advertising business for Facebook remains to be seen. Google has built the world's largest digital ad business by matching ads to what people tell it they want, proving that search = money. Facebook's search queries are not quite as revealing for advertising though. And the group, Stocky said, hasn't spent much time thinking about ways to make money from search.
"The business model questions, in terms of ads and monetization aren't something we've been really focused on," he said. Still, he added, "There certainly is a business case here that we believe in the long term that this will open up opportunities for new types of advertising."
Though it may not be a priority, search advertising on Facebook could be a gold mine if executed properly. And if there's anything Facebook has proven to this point, it's the ability to turn the data it posses into must-have advertising products.