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Weekly Ponderable: Who you going to ask? Facebook Search and beyond.


Here’s what started all the hubbub:

“Search engines are really evolving toward giving you a set of answers,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not just like ‘I’ll type in something and show me some relevant stuff.’ It’s, ‘I have a specific question, answer this question for me.’ When you look at it from that perspective, Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have: ‘What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York in the past six months and liked?’ ‘Which of my friends and friends of friends work at this company I’m interested in … so I can talk to them about what it’s like to work there?” – Mark Zuckerberg, Techcrunch Disrupt, Sept 11, 2012

Search is and will evolve. Remember search engines replaced the earliest manually curated lists with crawlers and algorithms that ranked most relevant based on content, hits, links, and other magical formulas.  The database of web pages and the algorithms got smart enough that you only have to give the engines a couple of words or the beginning of a word.  It changed our expectation for what a search box on the web or on a site meant but not what it would return…that would still be a link to page.  Adding new types of things to search (images, videos, stock prices, product catalogs, etc.) was simply an easier way to get to web pages, or the bits of a web page that were relevant to you.

If you wish to see the future, go play with Wolfram Alpha.  This is not a search engine and treating it like one will have disappointing results.  It is a computational engine.  Asking it a question like “Should I buy Sprint Stock?”  doesn’t return web pages (with real time updates or not), it pulls analyst data from around the web and charts out the current recommendations.  If you ask it about android smartphones, it will pull all current models and chart out their specs, including letting you correlate anything you like (megapixels versus talk time, for example).    Right now WA isn’t very smart because it is based on manually curated data and a few public feeds.  But imagine an engine that has at its disposal the exabytes of data that fly around the web everyday unlocked by all those APIs that everybody is talking about, combined with knowing you…very well.   Zuckerberg is right.  Facebook can answer some very interesting questions, but it pales in comparison to what computational engines can pull together when it has the entire digital repository at its beck  & call, including your Facebook info, if you should decide to share it.