Facebook has released a way to search the web through the toolbar on its site, using Microsoft’s Live search engine. See screenshots. The two companies announced the feature in July, although details weren’t clear at the time. Now that the feature’s working, it’s interesting to see that the results on the Facebook page aren’t quite the same as those on Live’s own site. This implies that Facebook is using its own ranking methodology on top of Live — perhaps using information that it has about you and your friends?
Below, in a search for “palo alto restaurant,” Facebook is showing me the Lavanda wine bar in Palo Alto as the fifth result, while Live isn’t. Is Facebook delivering information about Lavanda as a result of the networks I’m a part of, the ones that are located nearby? I’m asking Facebook for further comment.
[Update: Here's the company's response:
"We’ve been working out a few things in the product, but it should be back up again. To answer your other questions, we use a few different filters so the web search results may differ on Facebook and the Microsoft Live Search site. In addition, we don’t show sponsored results."]
In any case, web search is a new way for Facebook to make money. Search is profitable, as users who search for things are more likely buy to something than users who are, say, messaging friends on a social network. You run a contextually relevant ad next to search results, and users click on the ad and go make a purchase.
But the relationships you have with your friends on social networks could lead to more relevant results, as we covered in this in-depth interview with Google’s Marissa Mayer earlier this year. Indeed, Google already handles search on MySpace’s site, while MySpace is the number one source of traffic for Google. But MySpace user data isn’t used to customize Google search results, as far as I know.
Meanwhile, Google released screenshots in August showing an unlaunched search feature where users could comment on search results to improve overall result relevancy. Mayer mentioned that idea again last month, in a long post on the future of search. But it’s not clear when this or related social features may be introduced into Google search or other Google products.
Facebook is already tweaking Live search — apparently taking geography into context. What other data could Facebook use? Already, its user status updates essentially let you solicit answers from friends about things you might also search for. Facebook’s commenting feature appears to have become more popular after July’s upgrade to its news feeds, so this is a growing body of relevant data. Maybe friends’ comments could somehow be used to improve Facebook search results, along the lines of what Google is thinking?
Also, Microsoft is a strategic investor in Facebook — and Microsoft’s search share keeps dropping versus Google’s. Facebook previously said it’s working on its own search engine, but it has also said it’s going to be using Live. As you can see below, both seem to be happening.
This is just the latest way for Facebook to make its search feature more valuable; we’ve covered how it has already integrated a variety of pages, applications and other features into its search box.
The only thing is, web measurement firm comScore says MySpace generated 585 million U.S.-based searches in August, Google generated 10,158 million (or, more than 10 billion) — and Facebook generated 186 million. So Facebook has some catching up to do.
Doug Sherrets contributed to this article