Facebook, Search, and the Real World

February 16, 2013

I think there is or was a television program about the “real world.” I am hazy on this, but I perceive “reality television” as a semi scripted, low cost way to fill the gaping maw of 24×7 programming at a bargain basement price. In fact, when anyone suggests that something is “real” I take a second look. This applies to “real stories”, “real life examples”, and “real consulting insights”. In today’s world, the notion of “real” is slippery. I think of Plato, Hollywood special effects, and marketing baloney.

I read “You’re Not Gonna Like It: Facebook’s New Search Struggles with the Real World.” The title caught my attention because of its use of the familiar “you,” the word “gonna”, the inclusion of “search”, and the phrase “real world.” In a horse race there is a big payday from picking win, place, and show. Here the headline snags the top four spots in the social media World Cup.

The article points out that some of the features of Facebook search need to be rethought. That’s a fair statement. The product is a beta and represents the first somewhat edible fruit of the marriage between the Facebook crowd, the injected Googlers, and the post IPO attention of the kind and loving stakeholders.

Facebook has to produce revenues, keep its costs under control, and cope with a number of darned exciting issues. These include the mandatory registration Google has slapped on Google Plus and the awareness by some Facebookers that there may be something else to do with the time invested in posting information about one’s comings and goings.

Here’s the passage I noted:

Facebook launched Graph Search at a big press event at its Menlo Park, CA headquarters almost exactly one month ago. CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered a large part of the event keynote himself, highlighting the feature as one of three “pillars of Facebook” alongside the News Feed and Timeline. Graph Search is supposed to help you gather friends for a Twin Peaks marathon, find photos taken in London on your last trip, and see which sushi places are most popular among your friends. After a month of testing Graph Search, I’ve found that it’s fantastic at finding people and photos, but not so good at finding anything else.

Is any search system able to do more than one or two things well? Google does the ad thing. Lexis does the legal laundry list thing. Chemical Abstracts does the structure thing. Sure, these systems purport to provide more functions than a bucket of Swiss Army knives.

But the reality of search and information retrieval is that each system has a strength. Each system has gaps, blind spots, and stuff that just does not work as the users expect.

The write up identifies some of Facebook’s notable gaps; for example, dirty data. Don’t most Facebook users perceive content in Facebook is as accurate?

Net net: Facebook social search is a beta. What changes are coming? Wait and see.

Stephen E Arnold, February 16, 2013

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