Facebook has announced the testing of a new feature that would allow its members to search the site for things their friends and others are saying and sharing about particular topics - from links and comments to photos and videos - all in real time.
Yes, I know it sounds an awful lot like Twitter Search, which allows anyone - not just members - to tap into the keywords of Tweets to get a sense of what's being said about a particular topic at any given moment. The advantage that Twitter has over Facebook, of course, is that anyone can see the tweets. By default, Twitter is a public forum.
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. In its blog post, the company says:
The people around us are a powerful source for finding information about new and interesting information — from the latest on last night's episode of "The Office" and suggestions on what to do for your next vacation to current events.
I'm interested in the latest updates on the aftermath of the Iranian election. By entering the term "Iran" in the "Search" field in the upper-right corner of any page on Facebook, I will see up-to-the-minute results from my friends and the Facebook Pages of which I'm a fan, not to mention people who have chosen to make their profile and content available to everyone. I'm able to discover what blogs and news sources my friends are following, what my friends are saying about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and how people in general are reacting to the election results.
For now, Facebook is testing the feature on "a fraction of a percent" of its membership. It's also important to note that Facebook has heard loud and clear from its membership in the past that privacy is important. In its blog post, it reminds users that they maintain control over who sees what and offers a link to the privacy settings page.
I think it's great that Facebook is jumping into real-time search and it's smart to run this through a small test group first. It's early in the business of real-time search of social media and there's still time to decide what it will become. Just because Twitter had the jump start is no reason for Facebook to back off and let it become the defacto source for what's being said in real-time.
Competition. It's a good thing.