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Lexicon: Meet Facebook's answer to Google Zeitgeist

Members will be able to search for phrases on the site to see just how often they were talked about in public "wall" posts, according to the company. Cool or voyeuristic? Could be both.

Something was getting talked about around January 1. Wonder what it was?

Are Facebook members more likely to be talking about hamburgers in January or May? Well, you can find out.

The social network is about to launch Facebook Lexicon, a new feature that tracks exactly what users are chatting about in their public posts on each others' "walls," based on search queries, and turns them into graphs and charts.

"Facebook Lexicon aggregates and analyzes millions of Wall posts on the site every day to provide a snapshot of the collective conversation on the site," the company explained in an FAQ. "Users can query as many as five strings of a single word or two-word combinations. The analysis for Lexicon is done automatically without any person reading Wall posts and without access to any personal information."

It's not so much "how much is this getting talked about?" but rather "how many Facebook members are talking about it?" A Lexicon chart shows the number of Facebook users who posted a given one- or two-word phrase on public "walls"--on other members' profiles, group profiles, and event profiles--each day across a given span of time. Only data from September 8, 2007 on has been archived for the feature, and it currently can't be divided up by regional, school, or business network.

"More than anything, we want our users to learn more about the world around them by learning about the collective conversation on the site," the Facebook FAQ continued. "Lexicon is meant to be a fun, interesting way to look for trends in the topics and issues being discussed."

It's kind of like Google Zeitgeist, a feature that tracks the search engine's most popular queries across time. For Facebook, the launch of Lexicon likely has emblematic value: it's one of those "Look, we're the voice of a generation" moments.

Facebook used to have a detailed trend-tracking feature called Pulse, which it quietly axed early in 2007, though representatives said it wasn't permanently gone and would see a revamp. That hasn't happened yet; maybe, particularly considering Facebook's tendency to roll out a limited version of a new feature before expanding, Lexicon is the first glimpse at the reincarnated Pulse.