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Is Facebook Getting Serious About Search?




Facebook v. Google is no longer a David v. Goliath story. In fact, it is far from it except in one area: search. Search has been and is likely to continue to be the domain of Google. In fact, if Google is to truly survive it has to keep its position as the search king since many of their other efforts either fall flat or just kind of exist without truly impacting the market.

So if you are Facebook where could you grow and tap into a proven ad model like keyword driven PPC? Search of course. The rumor is that they know this and are moving forward to develop the idea. They are even using former Googlers to do it. Bloomberg’s Businessweek reports

Searching the social network could get a lot better in the near future. About two dozen Facebook engineers, led by a former Google engineer named Lars Rasmussen, are working on an improved search engine, say two people familiar with the project who did not want to be named because the company is in a quiet period ahead of its IPO. The goal, they say, is to help users better sift through the volume of content that members create on the site, such as status updates, and the articles, videos, and other information across the Web that people “like” using Facebook’s omnipresent thumbs-up button.

This whole endeavor will prove interesting since there has been little success from any Internet giant to successfully create a dominant presence outside of their core competency unless it is a completely new area. Apple’s success has come from blazing trails with their hardware and content distribution systems while Facebook has become the “go to” social network. Twitter is finding its voice as a real time news discovery outlet while Google has always completely dominated search. This chart shows just how far Facebook has to go to truly challenge Google in search.

Of course, you don’t have to travel far to find a bone yard of Google’s attempts to become more than a search engine. Buzz and Wave come to mind immediately while many want to put Google+ in that same company (I am not one of them just yet). These attempts to play elsewhere have often taken Google’s eye off the prize that feeds their machine (search and paid search advertising) and has even, in the opinion of many, negatively impacted the core product.

Would a Facebook foray into the world of search be any different? I don’t see why not. First, any search efforts by Facebook would have two limitations. The first and most important is that the search effort would be limited to Facebook’s data. Granted, this is no small amount of data and the power of the Facebook “like” ubiquity makes this data quite useful. It’s not the entire Internet though. Heck, even Google can’t claim to have every page on the Internet indexed.

The second possible “roadblock” would be their existing search relationship with Bing. It wouldn’t be that big of a deal if Microsoft weren’t an earlier, albeit smaller, investor in the social behemoth. This hurdle will be a tricky one to overcome but Facebook has proven that it can mess with anyone even if there is a need to walk a moral and ethical fine line while occasionally falling on the less than honorable side of that line.

What if, and this is a huge “what if” that has no basis in rumor or fact it’s just me thinking out loud, Facebook and Bing REALLY partnered to become the true competitor to Google? There is talk of Yahoo reconsidering their current search deal with Microsoft and considering Google as a partner. Google plus Yahoo’s content distribution systems v. Facebook and Google’s primary search competitor, Bing. Now that would be fun to watch!

As the chart above shows though Facebook has a large hill to climb. They should certainly have the money to do it after their public offering rumored to be in May. They will also have the pressure of finding new revenue opportunities. Search is a proven money maker and its a habit that will not be leaving the users of the Internet any time soon.

So what’s your take on Facebook and search? Would you find yourself going to Facebook for everything you need from search to social? Personally, I loathe the idea. Not because of Facebook’s history of less than honorable behavior (although that always taints my views of the company) but just from the idea that my world and the information I find would be limited to and thus unevenly influenced by my friends and connections. No offense but my friends don’t know everything. Neither do I or any of us. The idea of not being able to readily step out of the sphere of influence to expand my knowledge is not attractive at all.

What’s your take?