Facebook, Semantic Search, and Bad News for the Key Word Crowd

March 16, 2011

You can wade through the baloney from the pundits, satraps, and poobahs. I will cut to the chase. Facebook can deliver a useful search service without too many cartwheels. There are three reasons. (If you want to complain, that’s what the comments section of the blog permits. Spare me personal email and LinkedIn comments.)

First, there are upwards of 500 million users who spend more time in Facebook doing Facebook things than I would have ever believed. I don’t do “social” but 500 million or more people see me as a dinosaur watching the snow flakes. Fine.

Second, the Facebook users stuff links in their posts, pages, wall crannies, and everywhere else in the Facebook universe they can. This bunch of urls is a selection filter that is of enormous value to Facebook users. Facebook gets real people stuffing in links without begging, paying, or advertising. The member-screened and identified links just arrive.

Third, indexing the content on the pages to which the links refer produces an index that is different from and for some types of content more useful to Facebook members than laundry lists, decision engine outputs, or faceted results from any other system. Yep, “any other”. That situation has not existed since the GOOG took the learnings of the key word crowd, bought Oingo, and racked up the world’s biggest online advertising and search engine optimization operation in the history of digital mankind.

Navigate to “New Facebook Patent: the Huge Implications of Curated Search” and learn Bnet’s view of a patent document. I am not as excited about the patent at the Bnet outfit, but it is interesting. If one assumes that the patent contributes to the three points I identified above, Facebook gets a boost.

But my view is that Facebook does not need much in the way of a boost from semantics or any other hot trend technology. Facebook is sitting on a search gold mine. When Facebook does release its index of member-provided sources, four things will take place over a period of “Internet” time.

  1. The Google faces a competitor able to index at lower cost. Google, remember, is a brute force operation. Facebook is letting the members do the heavy lifting. A lower cost index of Facebook-member-vetted content is going to be a threat. The threat may fizzle, but a threat it will be to the Google.
  2. Users within Facebook can do “search” where Facebook members prefer to be. This means that Facebook advertising offers some interesting opportunities not lost on the Xooglers who now work at Facebook and want a gigantic payday for themselves. Money can inspire certain types of innovation.
  3. Facebook is closed. The “member” thing is important to keep in mind. The benefits of stateful actions are many, and you don’t need me to explain why knowing who a customer is, who the customer’s friends are, and what the customer does is important. But make the customer a member and you get some real juice.
  4. Facebook competitors will have to find a way to deal with the 500 million members and fast. Facebook may not be focused on search, but whatever the company does will leverage the membership, not the whizzy technology.

Bottomline: Facebook has an opportunity in search whether it does laundry lists, facets, semantics, or any combination of methods. My question, “When will Facebook drop its other social shoe?”

Stephen E Arnold, March 16, 2011

Freebie unlike the ads big companies will want to slap into Facebook outputs for its members


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