MENLO PARK, Calif. – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new search feature thats designed to entice people to spend more time on its website and will put the social networking company more squarely in competition with Google and other rivals such as Yelp and LinkedIn.
Called graph search, the new service unveiled Tuesday lets users quickly sift through their social connections for information about people, interests, photos and places. Itll help users who, for instance, want to scroll through all the photos their friends have taken in Paris or search for the favorite TV shows of all their friends who happen to be doctors.
Although Zuckerberg stressed that graph search is different from an all-purpose search engine, the expanded feature escalates an already fierce duel between Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. as they grapple for the attention of Web surfers and revenue from online advertisers.
This could be another reason not to use Google and another reason to stay on Facebook for longer periods, Gartner analyst Brian Blau said.
Facebooks foray into search marks one of its boldest steps since its initial public offering of stock flopped eight months ago amid concerns about the companys ability to produce the same kind of robust earnings growth that Google delivered after it went public in 2004.
If the new search tool works the way Facebook envisions, users would find information they want to see on their own instead of relying on the social networks formulas to pick which posts and pictures to display in their feeds, analysts said.
Until now, Facebook users were unable to search for friends who live in a certain town or like a particular movie. With the new feature, people can search for friends who, say, live in Boston who also like Zero Dark Thirty.
Only a fraction of Facebooks more than 1 billion users will have access to the new search tool beginning Tuesday because the company plans to gradually roll it out during the next year to allow time for more fine tuning.
Not all the interests that people share on Facebook will be immediately indexed in the search engine either, although the plan is to eventually unlock all the information in the network while honoring each users privacy settings.
That means users can only search for content that they have been granted permission to see by their online connections, Zuckerberg pledged.
Every piece of content has its own audience.
Though the company has focused on refining its mobile product for much of last year, the search feature will be available only on Facebooks website for now, and only in English.
The social graph, as Facebook calls its trove of connections between people and things, is big and changing, Zuckerberg said. There are 240 billion photos on Facebook and 1 trillion connections.