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Nearly two years after Facebook introduced Graph Search, its search engine, the social network is finally bringing it to mobile.
The company unveiled Facebook Search on Monday, a rebranded version of Graph Search that lets users search on their phone using phrases like, "Restaurants that my friends like in San Francisco. "
The new feature also lets people use keywords to find Facebook posts and photo captions, according to Rousseau Kazi, a product manager on Facebook's search team. Previously, a keyword search would only return relevant Pages, people or Groups. (You still can't search comments, he says.) This feature is also rolling out to desktop this week.
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Facebook created Graph Search in early 2013 with the hope that users would leverage Facebook for more natural language search queries like the restaurant one above. The tool rolled out slowly on the Web and even more slowly on mobile. Facebook began testing it with mobile users in February, more than a year after launch, and it took another 10 months to roll out more broadly.
Even now, it will only be available on iOS.
Kazi says part of the delay was related to product utility. Facebook wanted to learn how people were using it and improve the ranking element that determines what shows up near the top of the results page. The delay was also technical, he added; the company's mobile apps have improved over the last few years in ways that can better support a heavy-duty search tool.
Still, it's rare for Facebook to move this slowly with any product. (Its "Move Fast" motto still applies, even though it has been tweaked slightly.) Plus, Facebook prides itself on being "mobile first, " a mindset that many Silicon Valley companies have now adopted. So releasing a major search tool without mobile capabilities for nearly two years was a bit odd.
Social search is becoming more and more important given the vast amounts of data and information floating around these different social networks. Pinterest has vastly expanded its search tools in the past year, and Twitter and Instagram, too, are making search improvements.
For Facebook, adding stronger search to mobile can help keep users within the app for longer periods of time, and could even steal business from services like Yelp or Google if people use their social graph for restaurant and shopping suggestions on the go.
Facebook search will be released for the Web on Monday and on iOS sometime this week. There is no timetable for an Android launch.
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