In the search industry’s push to mine online social networks for improved results, the search engine Cuil has become the first to index information from your Facebook friends. Cuil then places direct and thematically related results from your Facebook network beside general Web search results.
The search offering, called Facebook Results, only works if you opt in from a Cuil search-return page. Once you do that, Cuil indexes your Facebook network in a few seconds. Afterward, any Cuil general Web search you perform also turns up items from your Facebook network and posts them in a right-hand column.
Cuil’s search algorithms find direct and related results. For example, my search for “asthma” summoned Facebook posts from a friend who had started a health-care networking website, others from a high-school classmate writing about his cancer diagnosis (the word “diagnosis” was deemed relevant), as well as a few posts about people’s colds and sinus complaints. A search for “Ecuador” turned up a travel agent acquaintance who was talking about a jungle tour, as well as a post from a journalist friend who was passing along a news story about the Congo (the technology picked up on the developing-nation theme).
In contrast, when I performed my “asthma” and “Ecuador” searches within Facebook, the Facebook engine gave me only general hits such as Facebook pages for asthma sufferers or national fan sites for Ecuador, but nothing at all from any of my friends’ posts.
The Cuil technology is built on Facebook Connect, the existing Facebook interface that other websites use to gain exposure within the social network. Facebook permitted Cuil to indexes users’ content–when permitted by individual users–on the condition that the information could only be viewed by the searcher, and that Cuil would not let other search engines access the Facebook information, according to Seval Oz Ozveren, a Cuil vice president. Facebook Results is the first such release between Cuil and a social networking site to integrate users’ social profile on search pages. It was announced in November; the concept was first discussed by Cuil in July. More such deals are expected to follow, she says.
“Social search is here to stay, and we are certain to see more Facebook integration by other players as well,” says Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist and search researcher at the University of Washington, who added that Facebook’s permissions will be the key to such efforts. “We see how important Facebook and other social networks are, and we also see how Facebook is seeking to parlay that importance into a role on other sites using initiatives like Facebook Connect, and now this one.”