facebook-newsfeed

Facebook’s mobile search tool might finally match the utility of its online counterpart.

A limited number of users can now search their friends’ status updates — a feature that’s already available on the Facebook website — through the company’s mobile application, according to Bloomberg.

Making its mobile applications as appealing as its website has been a problem for Facebook. It’s often said that it needs to be “mobile first,” but many features aren’t brought to its mobile apps until a few months after they first debuted on Facebook’s website. As Richard Nieva wrote last year when the company first announced Graph Search without any mobile integration whatsoever:

[A]t a big flashy press conference, we got a feature that’s core to the future of the company with no mobile integration right off the bat. Didn’t Facebook say that mobile was to be conceptualized into any new product? Granted, Zuckerberg was quick to mention several times that this is a beta product, and I’m sitting here next to a poster at Facebook headquarters that says “Done is better than perfect.” But this is 2013. Is Graph Search without any mobile integration really “done”? It betrays a worrying mindset that Facebook views mobile as a nice thing to have; a way of rounding the corners; not an essential check on the to do list before launching a product.

Bloomberg’s report shows that Facebook is at least getting around to bringing a standout feature to its mobile applications, even if they’re still lagging behind the website. One might think that the company would prioritize mobile, given the fact that more people access the service through their smartphones than through desktop PCs, but I guess that’s not the case.

The expansion also highlights a truism that’s haunted Facebook since it first launched — or at least since “The Social Network” dramatized the company’s founding — by pointing out that it never forgets anything about its users. (Before another Facebook representative emails me, yes, I know that people can delete their accounts, and no, that doesn’t change the sentiment here.)

As I wrote when Facebook introduced the ability to search through status updates last October:

Any decent paparazzo will catch his subject doing something unseemly, and Facebook users are some of the best around. Embarrassing images, discussions of illicit activities, tongue-in-cheek comments — all can be found via Graph Search by parents, future employers, prospective colleges, and anyone else in a position of power. (I’ve written before that Graph Search is the closest many civilians will come to understanding just how much private companies and government agencies alike know about them.)

It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that many of those concerned by Facebook’s efforts to make previously obscure information easily accessible are using other, more ephemeral services likeSnapchat, Frankly, or any of the delete-my-tweet services that have been cropping up. A status update can now be found years after it’s first shared — an image shared via Snapchat disappears in just a few seconds. Which could prove to be more damaging?

Facebook has paid lip service to the idea that people have the right to be forgotten — and not in the controversial “Europe is censoring Google” sense the term usually implies — by making apps like the now-deceased Poke or the might-as-well-be-deceased Slingshot, but this update shows that it’s not going to choose forgetfulness over comprehensiveness for its main service.

Some users might appreciate the ability to use this feature from their phones, and it’s about time Facebook brought its application to parity with its website. But for all of the people who want the past to fade away even if it never really disappears, well, this is just another reminder that they’re going to have to use something besides Facebook, because it never truly forgets.

[illustration by Hallie Bateman]