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Facebook Search Tool Finds Posts in a Haystack

Facebook finally has made it possible to use keywords to search its database for a particular post, vastly increasing the usefulness of the site. The move is "long overdue," said Ignite Social Media's Jim Tobin. "Graph Search never really reached its potential ... . When you have billions of pieces of content, not being able to find them is a usability problem."

Facebook on Monday made it possible for users to perform keyword searches for individual posts on the social network.

“With a quick search, you can get back to a fun video from your graduation, a news article you’ve been meaning to read, or photos from your friend’s wedding last summer,” said Tom Stocky, Facebook’s vice president of search.

Users still have the option of using search phrases like “my friends who live in New York,” he pointed out. Search results remain personalized and unique — users can see only things that have been shared with them.

The updates are due to roll out this week in U.S. English. They’ll be available via the Facebook website and its iPhone app.

Long Time Coming

“It has taken a long time,” Internet marketing expert Brian Carter told TechNewsWorld.

The changes are necessary: “Have you ever missed a post and gone back and the newsfeed is so personalized that it doesn’t even show it anymore? Or you clicked on a link and loved it but lost the link?” he asked.

“So much of Facebook is about discovering and sharing great content,” Carter said. “This will make finding that content again much easier, not to mention looking back at previous conversations.”

It’s not yet clear whether the search functionality will apply only to post content or to comments as well, but either way, it’s “a much-needed tool,” Carter said. “It’s even more important for mobile, because the mobile experience is a bit slower and more limited.”

‘A Usability Problem’

The move is “long overdue,” said Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media.

“Graph Search never really reached its potential, and I can recall many times when I wanted to show someone a post I’d seen earlier and couldn’t easily find it,” he told TechNewsWorld. “When you have billions of pieces of content, not being able to find them is a usability problem.”

The new feature “improves the network’s utility and will encourage people to spend more time with it,” agreed Paul Gillin, B2B social media strategist.

A Threat to Yelp?

“I’m struck by the timing, since Twitter announced just three weeks ago that the entire Twitter history would now be searchable, not just the previous two or three weeks, as had been the case in the past,” Gillin told TechNewsWorld. “I wonder what new technology innovation has suddenly enabled this functionality?”

The mobile capability will be welcome because “people often want to search for friends’ recommendations when they’re looking for a nearby restaurant or business,” he noted.

“Previously, that was all but impossible on Facebook,” Gillin said. “If I were Yelp or TripAdvisor, I’d be nervous, because a lot of the value they’ve provided has been aggregating opinions over time. Facebook isn’t negating their value, of course, but it’s giving users a valuable new resource to get recommendations when they need them.”

‘Most Content Is Inane’

It’s surprising that Facebook waited so long to make its content searchable, particularly given that “Google has been indexing LinkedIn’s content forever,” said marketing and social media expert Lon Safko.

“If you write a blog on LinkedIn, Google will index it usually within 30 minutes,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Not so for Facebook.”

Then again, “most of the content on Facebook is inane — there really hasn’t been a dire need to find that other funny cat video,” Safko added.

“I guess the good thing is that at least Facebook is still listening to users,” he said. “After Facebook went public, the only changes we’ve seen [have been] ways for them to charge us for services we used to have for free. It’s nice to see some enhancements made solely for the users.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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