Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled on Tuesday a feature to help its billion-plus users search for people and places within the social network, in the company's first major product launch event since its May initial public offering.
Speaking to reporters at its Menlo Park, California headquarters, Zuckerberg described what he called "graph search," which allows users to sort through content that has been shared with them.
Critics have long deemed the social network's current search capabilities inadequate.
Available as a "beta" or early version now, the new feature – dubbed "graph search" because Facebook refers to its growing content, data and membership as the "social graph" – will initially let users sort through mainly photographs, people, places and members' interests, he added.
"You need to be able to ask the query, like, who are my friends in San Francisco," Zuckerberg said. "Graph search is a really big product. It's going to take years and years to index the whole map of the graph and everything we have out there."
"We'll start rolling it out very slowly. We're looking forward to getting into more people hands over coming weeks and months."
Mr. Zuckerberg called it the "third pillar" of vital user features after News Feed and Timeline.
The world's largest online social network, Facebook is moving to regain Wall Street's confidence in the wake of a rocky IPO and concerns about its long-term money-making prospects.
Speculation had approached fever pitch over the past week about what Facebook planned to reveal in its highest-profile news briefing since its market debut. Guesses had ranged from a long-rumoured smartphone to a full Web-search product.
That anticipation, as well as expectations of strong fourth-quarter financial results, have helped drive up Facebook's stock. Its shares are up more than 15 per cent since the start of the year.
On Tuesday, its stock was off 0.3 per cent at $30.84.
At the tail end of the announcement Mr. Zuckerberg also announced Facebook was extending its Web search partnership with Microsoft's Bing, allowing Microsoft's Internet search engine to serve results when users probe the new Graph Search.
"We have a great partnership with the team at Microsoft and have worked with them for year," said Zuckerberg said. "We have been working with the team there for months to build this out."
"The search function on Facebook was basic and as such, a wasted opportunity given Facebook's imperative to strengthen advertising revenues," said Ovum Research analyst Eden Zoller.
Mr. Zuckerberg said he could foresee a business in search over time, but analysts advised caution. Facebook has come under fire numerous times for unclear privacy guidelines.
"Facebook graph search will no doubt leverage member data to provide advertisers with more targeted, personalized advertising opportunities going forward. But Facebook needs to tread very carefully here and be mindful of user privacy," Mr. Zoller said.
In early December 2012, Reuters reported Facebook began rolling out a variety of new privacy controls in its latest effort to address user concerns about who can see their personal information on the world's largest social network.
The new tools introduced will make it easier for Facebook's members to quickly determine who can view the photos, comments and other information about them that appears on different parts of the website, and to request that any objectionable photos they're featured in be removed.
A new privacy "shortcut" in the top-right hand corner of the website provides quick access to key controls such as allowing users to manage who can contact them and to block specific people.
In April 2012, Reuters reported Facebook settled privacy charges with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it had deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. Under the settlement, Facebook is required to get user consent for certain changes to its privacy settings and is subject to 20 years of independent audits.
With a file from AFP