Facebook has been eyeballing search all along.
The U.S. Patent and Trade Office awarded Facebook a patent this February, which was filed the same year Facebook began, giving the company rights to a system that uses social connections and clicks within the network to curate rankings. What results is a hybrid search engine, one which merges the preferences of one’s friends with an algorithm that fetches results. It’s social search, much like what Bing initiated when it allowed users to integrate Facebook’s graph into Bing’s search. Except this patent would bring the search engine within Facebook’s walls.
The patent, called “Visual tags for search results generated from social network information,” was originally thought to pertain to the tagging of pictures. But Erik Sherman with BNet pointed out that the patent actually had “broad implications for search.”
Wording in the patent describes tags which would demarcate links within query results, calling attention to ones that had been clicked on by friends in your network. The patent:
“Search results, including sponsored links and algorithmic search results, are generated in response to a query, and are marked based on frequency of clicks on the search results by members of social network who are within a predetermined degree of separation from the member who submitted the query. The markers are visual tags and comprise either a text string or an image.”
The predetermined degree of separation hints to the search engine’s going beyond those in your immediate network to find relevant results. This means it likely factors in your friends’ friends’ clicks–or reaches further in your extended network–though the specific degree of seperation is unclear at this point. Conceivably, the search engine could also use information available to Facebook via your interests, posts, links, and the like.
A Facebook search engine would be wading into a market that’s been undergoing much hybridization. Google, in response to declining algorithmic results, included a tool last week that allows users to bury unhelpful links. While this doesn’t plug into the social network like Facebook’s would, it does enlist humans to curate. If a bunch of people slash a spammy site, Google said it could merit the site’s exclusion from results. Likewise, Bing lets users bring their Facebook network into search. With Bing, searchers can view search results based on their friends’ Facebook Likes. If, for example, I liked a restaurant in Dallas, and you were searching restaurants in Dallas, my “Liked” restaurant would display, possibly even showing a review that I’d written.
These early hybrid models are signposts for search engines to come. The decade of algorithm-dominated search is behind us, and results will begin to center more and more on individuals, their networks, their locations and their preferences.