Facebook is to let users search all two trillion posts ever made on the site, subject to privacy settings. It hope to use the search as a way to gather real-time eyewitness accounts of news events.
Previously Facebook search would only let you search content from your Facebook friends and any pages which you had “liked.” Under the new system, which will roll out starting with US users and English language posts today, searches will cover any public post from a user or on a page. Any posts restricted to viewing by certain groups such as friends will be hidden unless you are in the relevant category.
The results will be organized into different categories so that, for example you can still isolate posts that come from people you know. That’s an important move from Facebook as it has previously touted the benefits of people being able to search among their trusted friends, for example to see if anyone they know has previously commented on a trip to a particular restaurant.
The results can also be quickly filtered by chronological order or Facebook’s assessment of which are most important. You’ll also be able to filter to get just photographs or just links to a main story.
It seems Facebook is most excited about the idea of search results acting as a live feed of eyewitness reports on a particular topic. That’s good in theory, though it will need some smart algorithms to filter out posts which simply repost genuine updates or are merely personal commentary and reaction to events. There’ll also need to be some form of filter to keep the feed to a manageable number of posts.
One interesting feature which Facebook mentions in passing is the option to ” check out an aggregate overview of sentiment” about a particular topic. There’s little in the way of detail, but this could be a selection of “typical posts” which tries to reflect the overall balance of views. That could have intriguing results as it won’t have the normal echo chamber effect by which seeing comments only from your friends may be unrepresentative given that you are more likely to be friends with people who share your views and values. One challenge here will be dealing with differing levels and styles of sarcasm and irony, particularly for searches that cross international borders.