Is Better Searching Coming to Facebook in Time to Tackle Twitter?

Facebook debuts new and improved search engine features to a small fraction of its 200 million users, even as the comparisons to Twitter's real-time tweeting continues. Adding search will be an application development coup for Facebook, but users will still likely use Twitter for snackable content and Facebook for longer, more comfortable social networking. Meanwhile, the TweetDeck Twitter desktop client comes to the iPhone.

Facebook, chided by spoiled Twitter fans for its inability to let users search content in real time, said June 16 it is testing the latest version of Facebook Search for a fraction of a percent of the people on Facebook.

The lucky batch of people will see new layouts for search results on people's profiles, Facebook Pages, groups and applications. Facebook engineer Kari Lee wrote in a blog post that:

"With the test, you will be able to search your News Feed for the most recent status updates, photos, links, videos and notes being shared by your friends and the Facebook Pages of which you're a fan. You will also be able to search for status updates, posted links and notes in Search from people who have chosen to make their profile and content available to everyone. As always, you can control what content you're sharing by editing your privacy settings here."


For example, Lee said that by entering the term "Iran" in the "Search" field in the upper-right corner of any page on Facebook, she will see up-to-the-minute results from her friends and the Facebook Pages of which she's a fan. She will also see I'm what blogs and news sources her friends are following and what they're saying.

What does this mean for the 200 million-plus Facebook users in the world? It means that instead of just being able to find people to connect with, you will get super current windows into more content, a holistic experience that every social network aims to provide in an age where keeping people inside the network is key. After all, that's where the ads Facebook makes money off of, or tries to, live.

Bloggers are positioning the move as a move to catch up to Twitter, which in 2008 captured the hearts and minds of users the way Facebook did in 2007. Twitter's own search functionality lets users enter keywords and latch on to specific topics. But Twitter, for all its real-time capabilities, still has much less capability than Facebook, which owns a wealth of data on people and sports thousands of applications.

The Facebook versus Twitter debate is not so much about which is better, but which is better for what users want to do. Users who prefer a richer experience may prefer Facebook; those who live in the Web 2.0 moment will find Twitter more satisfying. As Between The Lines' Sam Diaz put it:

Facebook, on the other hand, can offer more than 140 characters and a link in its results. Being able to see results in a number of ways - photos, videos, and so on - offers deeper insight into the topic being searched... Just because Twitter had the jump start is no reason for Facebook to back off and let it become the de facto source for what's being said in real-time.

Indeed, people continue to be atwitter about Twitter, which grabbed many headlines for delaying downtime in the wake of Iranian election protests.

Applications piggybacking on Twitter are also feeling the love. TweetDeck, a Twitter desktop client that aims to be a personal browser for connecting users with their contacts across Twitter, Facebook and other sites, launched its iPhone app.