Facebook is the most used People Search Engine on the web

Most people know Facebook as a social network, not a technology company. Well, data released by Facebook today shows that Facebook users are searching in large volume: 500 million Facebook searches were conducted in May alone. During the same time period, Google handled about 3.85 billion searches. I think it’s interesting that Facebook is processing a meaningful number of searches when compared to the total number of times Google is used nationwide (about 13% of Google’s volume, in fact) .

Obviously, the technical challenges at Facebook are quite different than those outside the context of a social graph (Wink and ZoomInfo are two startups attacking the more general people search problem). Instead of indexing and organizing the whole web, Facebook indexes only the information created by its users and sorts by social graph distance, so the same search returns different results for every user:

Facebook search results are sorted by an approximation of social graph distance. People closer to you in the graph—your friends and people in your networks—are likely to be more relevant to you and thus are ranked higher. We also use this concept of “social proximity” to order results within applications like groups and events. Facebook search’s key differentiator is that search results are unique to every user because they are based on a individual’s place in the social graph.

Facebook lets you search its entire database of users and see names and networks of people in your search results, regardless of your degree of connection to them. By contrast, LinkedIn only shows names of search results within your 3rd-degree network and 20 out-of-network search results (though you have to pay to contact them) (you can also purchase access to more out-of-network search results). However, LinkedIn does allow you to access the profile pages of people in your search results, whereas most Facebook users usually require a 1st-degree connection or being in the same network.

Based on an off-the-cuff estimate, I estimate that about 80% of the people searches I conduct are searches for people within my geographical area (San Francisco/Silicon Valley, CA) or third-degree network. For these searches, Facebook and LinkedIn are able to provide much more relevant results for me because they can take social proximity into account when ranking results. While search engines that crawl the web can provide a basic level of white pages functionality, they can’t provide that same value. As Facebook continues to grow in popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it build on its lead as the most popular people search engine on the web.

[tags]facebook,search,people search,linkedin[/tags]

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4 Responses to “Facebook is the most used People Search Engine on the web”

  1. Rupert Schiessl says:

    Interesting article, Justin!

    The recent development of people search engine is confusing more than one internet user. Actually, nobody really knows where they (i.e. Ziki.com, Spock.com, etc.) want to go.

    Fore me there a two developments possible:

    -) Webpages like Ziki.com or soon Spock.com will make their user’s lifes easier by helping them organizing their personal contents and feeds. This will allow them to become some sort of content hubs first and stand-alone social network pages in a further evolution.

    -) Their attempt to link users amongst them on their websites will fail and their services will be used by their members to create an online ID card (or resume) in order to become more visible on the web, for instance, to appear amongst the search results for professional head hunters. In this case, Ziki and Spock.com will have to position themselves as pure people search engines for a more business driven community.


  2. Jay Neely says:

    Justin, I don’t understand where your title is coming from. I see your numbers for Facebook’s people searches, but I don’t see any numbers to compare it to? So how do you know that Facebook is the “most used People Search Engine on the web”?

    How does it compare to searches on Google or other major search engines for names?

    And how is “most used” being defined? By the number of searches, or the number of searchers?


  3. links for 2007-07-09 : Tama Leaver dot Net says:

    [...] Facebook is the most used People Search Engine on the web [Inside Facebook] ” … data released by Facebook today shows that Facebook users are searching in large volume: 500 million Facebook searches were conducted in May alone.” (tags: facebook searchengines socialsoftware socialnetworking) [...]

  4. Web Design and Blog by James Brown says:

    [...] I mention that Facebook is the most used People Search Engine on the [...]

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