Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s search engine

During Facebook’s call with investors yesterday detailing another quarter of runaway financial success, CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent a good amount of time discussing one of the less social aspects of the social network: search.

Facebook, he said, is committed to spending the company’s money and resources in a long-term effort to make searching within the platform a better experience for its users. “Search for Facebook is going to be a multiyear voyage,” Zuckerberg said.

By getting it right, he said, Facebook will be able to give users information they can’t get from other search engines or social networks.

“There’s just so much content that’s unique to the Facebook ecosystem,” he said. “We can answer questions for you that really no other service can. Just like the other day I was curious about finding out which of one of my friend’s friends worked at a company. I don’t know any other service where you can just go do that query. But on Facebook you can.”

LinkedIn likely would insist to differ, but Zuckerberg has a point that Facebook’s Graph Search, which enables robust searches by connections and interests, is unique (I know of no better way to find “Friends of friends who work at Twitter and like Surfing,” for instance).

Graph Search still has major limits. It hasn’t been rolled out on mobile and searching within posts still doesn’t work for all users (it never has for me) despite Facebook’s announcement last September that that feature had been activated.

In yesterday’s comments, Zuckerberg admitted search within Facebook is still a work in progress. For instance, he said, he isn’t sure whether he would be able to find a Shakira video he had mentioned earlier, posted to celebrate the pop star’s Facebook Page hitting the 100 million likes milestone.

Facebook Handles 1 Billion Searches Daily

But he said it’s getting better and that recent improvements in mobile search have caused the number to average daily searches to pass 1 billion again. That number, which Zuckerbergtouted first in 2012, had fallen, because on average users search less on mobile. “We went through a period where in order to have that increase, we had to do some really good work,” he said, “where we had to make it a lot faster and improve ranking.”

The main difficulty, Zuckerberg said, is scale — “I think there’s more than a trillion posts, which some of the search engineers on the team like to remind me is bigger than any web search corpus that’s out there.” — but Facebook won’t quit:

“There’s huge potential. There are a lot of questions that only Facebook can answer, that the other services aren’t going to be able to answer for you. We’re really committed to investing in that and building out this unique service over the long term. I think at some point there’s going to be an inflection where it just starts to be useful for a lot of use cases.

“It may still be years away, but we are committed to making this right.”

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