The billion dollar question, for Facebook, lies in doing search well. The great irony about sitting on a motherlode of data is that Facebook, traditionally, has been unable to utilize it in a way that makes sense. In the simplest English possible, Facebook search has always sucked.
While doing search well within Facebook’s walled garden on the web has been an elusive target for the social network, mobile search, within an app environment it controls completely may be a prize that lies within its reach.
The latest attempt is Facebook’s “Add A Link” experiment that’s appearing to US users on mobile where you can punch a query in a search field and get a list of drop down links you can add to your message. Facebook has indexed an enormous amount of links from its News Feed and articles shared by its users and it is using them, filtering them via a popularity and social proof, ranking algorithm.
Techcrunch had the story on this and the experiment looks logical. Sharing links via Facebook’s mobile app is hard work at the moment. Making it easy to share makes sense and from Facebook’s point of view there will be an ever accumulating wealth of data on each user’s profile that will only make it easier to contextually target advertisements to them.
Will it work? That really depends. As ever Facebook’s development in this direction ties in with another initiative intended to make the social media platform into a publishing one that publishers of content can love. There are two big bets here: First, that the approach will produce an engaging result that the audience will love and use. Second, that Facebook’s traditionally autocratic behavior when it comes to data harvesting and advertisement presentation is kept in check long enough for those on the platform to feel comfortable again.
Neither of these two is a guarantee at the moment so let’s throw in a third. Facebook, for all the money it has thrown at it, has failed to come up with a search alternative to Google. Never mind that, it has failed to come up with a search that actually works. The “Add A Link” option may be that solution but unless there is detailed indexing of links within Facebook that takes into account content and relevance the end result is likely to be poor, easy to game, producing yet another filter bubble and unlikely to wow the audience for very long.
At the moment though it is experimenting and experiments have a way of creating new avenues of opportunity.