Facebook Experiments With Zero-Input Search Function

In short: Facebook now appears to be experimenting with ways to enable a contextual search functionality within its application that requires no input from the user at all, based on a recently published patent filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). As described in the associated documents, the search would essentially be centered around an algorithm that makes predictions from the vast amounts of data Facebook stores on any given user. The app's UI would present a variety of "search results" to the user from that, complete with hideable drop-down menus loaded with relevant 'call-to-action elements' for the user to interact with.

Background: On its surface, the new patent seems to describe something close to Google's search application and the interface layout, outlined in a single patent image, does too. In some instances, the company's other software uses similar features to prompt user interaction via a smartphone notification. For example, if a user travels to a restaurant they might see a notification appear asking for a review of that location or providing in-depth information about a menu or other aspects of a business. Further options are given to users within the Google app itself or through an online search, with the software providing actionable buttons to set a reservation, buy tickets, make a call, or other similar actions.

Facebook's solution wouldn't necessarily be too different from that but it would offer up results for a wider variety of queries without any input from the user at all. Those would be based on a user's behavior, recent actions taken within the Facebook application, and previous searches as well as the store of personal, location, and demographic-related data that's been collected with regard to the user. Beyond that, it would also aggregate multiple search functions under one app and with single queries. Namely, users could enter their own search terms to get a wide variety of relevant results within the app. Facebook provides an example of a user searching for the word "Johnson" - a term that could point to a local business, a friend or family member's last name, or something else. If the user has previously spent time at a restaurant with that term in its name or has a friend with the term for their surname, the app will return results for both in a single page. As with the less controlled automatic searches, those results would be accompanied by actionable UI.

Impact: There's no guarantee the social media giant will ever put this patent to use but, if it does, the results will almost certainly be useful for those who are heavily invested in the Facebook ecosystem. In effect, it could allow for comprehensive actionable searches either with or without input from the user and without the user ever needing to leave the Facebook application.

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