To Complement Its Search Engine, Facebook Launches People, Pages, and Places Directories

Facebook is now closer than ever to becoming the phone book for the internet. The site recently launched a Directory of people, Pages, and Places to allow users to find friends and official entities by name. The People Directory displays an alphabetized list of all users who’ve made public search listings available in their privacy. In addition to browsing by first letter, the Pages and Places Directories surface the most popular presences first for speedy discovery

Until now, users could only find people, Pages, and Places through search, the personalized Find Friends feature, and the buried Pages Browser. Directories will assist users that are looking for things with common names or that they’re not positive about the spelling of. Though certainly slower than search, it could become a powerful last resort for people intent on finding someone or something on Facebook.

Facebook hasn’t found much success with directories in the past. In July it finally deleted its already unlinked App Directory following years of low usage and its categories becoming inaccurate. The Page Browser that helps users discover Pages to Like still exists, though it’s very difficult to find without a direct link despite hosing the management system for invites to Like Pages.

One of Facebook’s goal with the Directories may be to challenge third-party search engines as the preferred way to find information about businesses. This is because advertisers are willing to pay higher prices to appear when users are making decisions about which local business or restaurant to visit.

Once users arrive at a Page or Place, their standardized layout of those webpages makes them effective for this. Google Places search results are a already a highly efficient way of finding a phone number or business hours, though. The Directories could find their niche by making it easier to find a description, photos, and recommendations from friends of a business.

The product handles some use cases its own search engine isn’t as apt for. Still, Facebook will need to significantly improve its search engine, possibly by working more closely with Bing, and tie it in with the Directories the company wants to actually dissuade users from searching for businesses on Google.

With more users, Pages, and Places joining the site every day, Facebook need a better way for users to track down people and things they care about. The Directories might not be the most elegant solution, but it gets the job done.

People Directory

The People Directory is arguably the most useful since finding long lost friends is a core value proposition of Facebook. If users don’t have mutual friends, haven’t previously connected through email, and don’t share a characteristic like a hometown, it can be difficult to track someone down using the Find Friends feature that imports one’s email and social contacts and provides suggestions.

With the People Directory, all a user needs is someone’s name. They can then sort by letter, and then select ever narrower ranges of names to browse. This can eventually lead to an entire page or even multiple pages of people with the same name. They can then click through each to see if its the person they’re looking for.

While seeing 25 results on a Page means users might need to do less browsing than with search, they also don’t see the profile picture or network of each result, meaning they have to click through each.

Pages and Places Directory

As users don’t have pre-existing connections to Pages or Places that they can import from email or other services, the Pages and Places Directories can help users locate the Facebook presences of things they care about.

Rather than just show all Pages and Places in strict alphabetical order, those with the most Likes or check-ins that fall in the selected letter range are displayed first, before the alphabetical list. For example, if a user clicks on ‘D’ in the Pages Directory navigator, they’ll then see the Pages with the most Likes that start with the letter ‘D’, followed by narrower ranges of Pages such as “Debbie’s Friends Fund – Decor For Your Day”.  This significantly speeds up the process of finding more popular Pages and Places.

There don’t appear to be publicly accessible links to the Directories yet, so their designs may not have been finalized. Still, there are a few ways the product could be improved.

Currently, users have to click through every People Directory result of someone with the same name or Pages directory entry with an ambiguous name to find what they were looking for. Facebook could solve this by displaying hover cards of profile pictures, mutual friends or Likes, and other information when names are hovered over. The ability to browse Pages by category or Places by location could also provide a better discovery experience.

With these changes, the Directories could help users from more connections, which is key to Facebook’s user retention strategy. After all, those with few friends or Likes have sparse news feeds and receive few notifications, and therefore don’t return to Facebook often.

[Thanks to Eti Suruzon for the tip]

Strategies for gaining for fans for your Page or Places can be found in the Facebook Marketing Bible, Inside Network’s comprehensive guide to marketing on Facebook.