Facebook, the super popular social network which has enjoyed somewhat walled garden status by not letting search engines index the bulk of its user profiles, has announced that they will begin letting Google, Yahoo, Ask.com, MSN and other search engines index public profile pages of their users.
Facebook plans to open up its search functionality this week and will then give its users one month to opt-out of their opening to search engines by changing their user privacy settings. Currently Facebook is not blocking spidering of their user profiles, but most public profiles (which feature the user name, image and basic info) are not accessible due to no sitemaps style communication between the company and search engines.
Facebook adds (via Mashable)
The Public Search Listing of a profile shows the profile picture thumbnail and links to interact with a user on Facebook. People will always have to log in or register to poke, message or add someone as a friend. A user can also restrict what information shows in their public listing by going to the search privacy page. For instance, if a user does not want their profile picture to be shown, they can uncheck that box under “What people can do with my search results”.
There are currently a bit over 25,000 Facebook public profiles indexed in Google, mostly via external sites linking in to them (like this Ron Paul profile).
With millions of Facebook users about to hit the search engine results and over 18 million incoming links bound for Facebook (thanks Patrick), one has to wonder whether Facebook profiles will have Wikipedia status .. ranking highly for names and terms; which attracts the spammers. Hopefully this will not lead to thousands of Facebook pharmacy and payday loans profiles being launched.
Instead of Wikipedia however, the opening of Facebook to search engines reminds me more of how LinkedIn public profiles are ranking higher and higher in Google, and probably converting to new memberships. With the amount of vanity and friend searches on the Internet, users are bound to join Facebook who have not done so before in order to connect with old comrades from University or business days.
With the addition of external applications to Facebook however, search indexing hopefully will not become another Facebook annoyance, filling up email inboxes with messages via Zombie Bites, Super Walls and Best Friend requests.
I’m also wondering if a next step by Facebook is to open up its tagged photos to search engines, as Facebook image tagging is one thing that has me revisiting friend profiles on Facebook, as images are constantly being uploaded and edited by people within my network.
Will the search engines be ironically contributing to the rise of Facebook, a direct competitor to Flickr, Picasa, MySpace and other search invested interests, by indexing Facebook pages? Possibly so. But the flipside to this may also be more application marketing, advertising and partnership opportunities for those same companies.
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