News Column

Facebook Launches New Search Feature

July 8, 2013

Facebook said it has refined a new search feature to the point it is ready for a broader U.S. audience, launching an American English version Monday.

"We launched it early, when it still was in a pretty raw state," said Lars Rasmussen, the engineering director of the feature that allows users to go beyond finding friends and focus on interests.

For example, The New York Times reported Monday Rasmussen searched once for friends who liked ballet and came up with only two responses, which is not many considering the Web site has 1.1 billion users.

But the new feature allows users to find people who have indicated on Facebook that they like a ballet company's Web site, the Times said.

Facebook struggled with creating a search engine that could recognize variations within the language, for example, slang words or other synonyms and various verb tenses.

"There is a near infinite variety of ways to say anything in English or in any other language. They are trying to memorize all the ways of saying something," said Nick Cassimatis, who is co-founder of SkyPhrase, a start up company working on search engine capabilities that use what is might be called called the common, every day language people use.

Facebook said the feature called Graph Search, only reveals information that was already designated as available to the public.

Rasmussen said Graph Search is a work in progress but Facebook believes it is ready for a larger audience.

Facebook said it collected an average of 3.3 million new bits of information for every minute in May. But how to make that available -- in what form and how to create the right search engine -- is the primary question.

"Finding people, finding activities, finding recommendations is part of what makes Facebook useful," said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at R.W. Baird & Co.

However, the difficulty is that "there hasn't been a way for users to access that data," Sebastian said.

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Source: Copyright UPI 2013

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