Facebook and the advent of searchless search

by on 29th July 2016

Facebook smashed the revenue expectations set with its earnings report for the last quarter. The main driver of revenue was, unsurprisingly, ads. What’s more interesting than this though was the discussion around where they see the product heading in the future.

When the Facebook team decided to push into natural language graph-based search a few years ago, it created a product with a solid infrastructure, but without a clear use case. People aren’t on Facebook attempting to find things – they’re looking to be entertained, informed about what their friends have been up to, or sharing their lives. Users don’t use Facebook with the explicit intent of looking for service or reviews of a product.

What’s interesting though is the way that Facebook took the use case and married it with a push-based search model. By surfacing information on current trending news, filtered for relevancy by matching against a user’s preferences, they’ve created a new way to present interesting content to people in a timely manner.

This has in fact been so effective that it now tallies 2 billion surfaced searches per day, a figure currently that’s grown from around 1.5 billion this time last year.

“I would say we’re around the second phase of that in search now. We have a pretty big navigational use case where people look up people and pages and groups. But one of the big growing use cases is looking up content in the ecosystem and that is an area we’re very excited about,” Zuckerberg said on the earnings call.

This is interesting as it’s an area that traditionally has been served by Twitter, but that that company has failed to monetise effectively. Zuckerberg seems bullish on the prospect nevertheless, commenting that they believe it will be an area they can use to generate revenue in the future. It’s probable that this would be through some form of advertising, the product Facebook understands best, though how this could be delivered whilst avoiding the appearance of bias remains to be seen.

It’s notable that Facebook aren’t the only goliath attempting to create this product – the concept is remarkably similar to the Google Now’s “Stories for You” feature, and Twitter’s “Moments” product. The only question is, who can gain traction with consumers first, can Twitter find a way to make it pay before it’s too late.

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