What's taken them this long? Facebook is finally getting into search seriously. Business week has a useful overview of the story in case you'd like to take a look. The only thing that surprises me about this is that people seem surprised that Facebook is moving in this direction; I've been talking about this for ages on my courses and to anyone else who is prepared to listen! I suspect that the announcement that it wants to raise $5 billion is rather closely allied to this latest move.
Currently Facebook search isn't really the best. It's powered by Microsoft Bing, and as long as you want to find stuff IN Facebook, it just about works. A search for 'public library' for example gives me lists of friends who relate in some way to that subject, events, locations and pages, but it's not exactly exhaustive, and I still need to leave Facebook to get any serious material. That's not what Facebook wants to happen, for three reasons - firstly, I've left the comfy confines of my padded Facebook cell out into the real world, second, they can't continue to throw advertising at me, and thirdly I've most likely walked straight into my comfy padded cell at Google.
If Facebook can create a proper search engine - and by that I mean one that searches the web, news, video and the rest of it, that's going to be huge. If the Holy Grail of search is to personalise search to the extent that the engine knows you well enough to know what you're searching for, Facebook is going to have an absolutely crushing advantage over Google. For example, Facebook can in theory already know a great deal about you - your basic details such as age, date of birth, location, schools, marital status, then also personal interests, places that you visit (via the check-in facility), what you like, who your friends are (and everything that they like), which adverts you are interested in, what events you have been to, and those that you're planning on going to.
Now, if we take the sum of all of that knowledge, and add it to a search function, we're then entering a really interesting new area. If I do a search on Google at the moment for 'pizza' for example, Google can give me a bunch of data, and if I'm lucky, pizza places nearby, or those websites that have been liked by G+ contacts. However, Facebook will also know that my friends have visited pizza Facebook pages, they know which ones they have liked and it can then deliver a tailor made set of results for me - including a link directly into the Facebook page of the pizza restaurant with a handy 'order your pizza here' option. No Google, no web, just Facebook. It's at this point when Facebook will become the de facto web, and people who are new to the net will logon, get a Facebook account and could quite easily live the rest of the internet lives without realising what else is out there. It's not a far fetched concept either, given that the size of Facebook now is the size of the internet as it was in 2004.
Google is left very much out in the cold. That's why it's focussing so heavily on Google+ in an effort to recapture some ground. The problem is, Google has to do social networking very, very well in order to get people to move across from Facebook, and that's just not happening. Facebook on the other hand simply needs to do search well enough. They can ignore all the search functionality that we like, as they'll emphasis the personal nature, and that's what will grab people's attention.
So what does this all mean for the information professionals? Quite simply - a huge amount. In order to help people, and to advise them, we need to be where they are. That's less and less in the physical library - it's not even on the website now, it's going to be in Facebook. Like it or not, you will *have* to have a Facebook account and profile, so that your users can find you and link to you. Then you can start 'liking' pages, creating resources within Facebook, engaging in conversations and so on. It also means that the days of blocking Facebook are (probably) numbered, as it's going to be impossible to use the internet properly without it. I say (probably) since there are still enough stupid places that block access to the second largest search engine in the world - YouTube - because they don't understand it.
If you don't have a Facebook account - get one. If you do, consider creating a professional account as well, and think how you're going to work with colleagues and other professionals, and how that's going to differ from your friendship groups. While you're at it, tell your company that they'd better start paying a lot of attention to Facebook in the future.