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Facebook Search: New, but Still Useless

August 14, 2009

by Emily Meinhardt
Facebook Search: New, but Still Useless

If you're going to do a press blitz about how awesome some new feature of your product is, better make sure it's actually awesome.  Facebook's Search now lets you search your friends' status updates and supposedly their profiles as well, but gives far from complete results when practically applied.  Read all about it here, here, and here (Facebook Blog, NYT Bits Blog, and Mashable). Let's take an example. A friend and I were looking for someone to drive us to the airport (from Palo Alto to SFO) and tried to think of all the people we knew in the area.  Rather than relying upon our multi-tasking and maxed-out memories, however, I wanted to turn to Facebook, the virtual Rolodex of my social existence. Using Facebook Search, it should be pretty easy to come up with a list of people I know who are in the Palo Alto (/Silicon Valley/San Jose/South Bay) area.  Whether that person is a Fan of the Palo Alto Jewish Community Center, attended Palo Alto High School, or simply lists Palo Alto as "Current City," that information should be available to me.  All I have to do is type "Palo Alto" into the seach box at the top, right-hand corner of any page on Facebook, and I will be greeted with every mention of the phrase "Palo Alto" on my friends' pages or otherwise, right? Wrong.

Even with the filters on the left, finding people I know with connections to Palo Alto was not happening.  If I wanted to know which friends of mine like the Rolling Stones, the results weren't much better.  Status updates that mention the Stones were the closest I could get.  Rather than thinking of the new Facebook Search as Google search for all information on Facebook (i.e. complete, thorough, exactly what  you were looking for), it would be more helpful to think of it as a Twitter search -- you can find topics your friends are talking about in their status updates. Facebook needs to be able to better organize the information that people share on Facebook. One of Facebook's greatest assets, if not the greatest asset, is the information that people voluntarily share: interests, favorites, experiences, etc. Help us get to that information, Facebook.  In other words, be more like Google.

Before the emphasis on Search, I would have used networks to accomplish this task.   I used to be able to find a list of networks and the number of friends I had in each network. But Facebook has begun to phase out regional networks because they were pretty useless in general -- were you really going to start up a friendship with someone who you didn't know, but was in your same "network"?  No, probably not. Facebook is built upon the strength of social connections, and sharing a regional network was not a strong enough bond to truly connect you with another person. These networks were marginally useful, however, for grouping your friends by their location(/school/organization).  Palo Alto anyone?

In the end, we found a ride to the airport.  Ironically, it was someone who worked at Facebook.

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