New ‘Facebook Search’ Shuns Local But It’s Probably Still Coming

Yesterday Facebook announced that it was rolling out Facebook Search, a successor to “Graph Search” (for people, places and things) on the PC site but especially in its mobile app. Graph Search was introduced in early 2013 and was received with high expectations about its potential for the company and, eventually, as a Google challenger.

However Graph Search never really developed into anything compelling or useful for more than specific people and isolated business lookups. Facebook’s mantra is that “Search at Facebook is a long-term effort.” Indeed.

In launching Facebook Search yesterday the company says it learned a great deal over the past year and a half. One of those things was that people want to search for individual posts, so that’s the principal upgrade and feature of the new search offering:

You’ve given us a lot of feedback on the Graph Search beta. You’ve told us the most important thing is being able to find posts you’ve seen before, and now you can. 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.

With the exception of posts associated with hashtags people can only search for content they already have access to on the site. It’s available in US English on the PC and for iOS. Android is coming in the not-too-distant future.

You can search for specific businesses by name but Facebook Search doesn’t allow category searches (though Nearby Places on the app does) and no superlatives (e.g., “best sushi, Chicago”). Facebook has all that data but they’re just not making it easy to access.

I’m somewhat mystified that the company didn’t go further in the direction of places/local search. There’s pent-up demand (in my view) for such a product. Facebook has been building out a range of specialized apps. It seems to me that “Places” is a natural for the company accordingly.

Evidence that Facebook could create a first-class local search product is visible in its Places Directory, which was launched this summer without fanfare and only recently discovered. It too is not a “search” product except that one can search for specific cities and then browse through a wide range of subsidiary content.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe that to fully realize its SMB advertising ambitions, the company needs to develop a consumer-facing local search experience. That use case would make the advertiser value proposition self-evident to small advertisers and their agencies. Facebook could “bundle” search and display advertising across its network, as Google once did.

But I’m getting well ahead of myself.

Facebook has had a “Nearby Places” tab buried within its existing app for some time. I would guess that 8 out of 10 Facebook users don’t know it’s there. And of the two that do, one may use it.

Nearby Places allows users to search by category, as mentioned, or business name. However it’s mostly a browse experience: restaurants, coffee, nightlife, arts, hotels, etc.

It would be entirely logical to break out “Nearby Places” as a stand-alone “Places” app with improved keyword search. Facebook has the content already. A Places app would be useful for travel scenarios as well as “ordinary” daily local search.

Even though the company is putting lots of emphasis on capturing and growing SMB advertising it doesn’t seem to recognize the connection between the consumer experience and advertiser demand — the link that powered the growth of Google’s massive search business.

Local search for Facebook is “low hanging fruit.” I’m not sure why the the company is hesitating. I still think that local search on Facebook is coming but when doesn’t seem to be as soon as I previously thought.

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