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New Facebook Search Engine In The Works, Should Google Worry?

The real Search Plus Your World?

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It looks like Facebook is finally taking search more seriously. The company is reportedly working overtime on improving its own search feature, which leads us to wonder if it may even have something bigger up its sleeve. We’ve written about the major opportunities Facebook has to make a big play in the search engine market and go head-to-head with Google several times in the past, and this news does very little to convince us this is not a possibility.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that something like 24 Facebook engineers are working on “an improved search engine,” and the effort is being led by former Googler Lars Rasmussen. Interestingly enough, while I was working on this article I happened to get an email from a Googler pointing the report out to me. They didn’t say as much, but Google no doubt wants more attention brought to the fact that other major web entities have opportunities to compete with them. The EU is expected to make a decision in an antitrust investigation into Google as soon as after Easter.

Should Facebook create a full-on search engine to compete with Google? Let us know what you think.

Bloomberg cites “two people familiar with the project” as providers of this info. Presumably they are from Facebook itself, as the report says they didn’t want to be named because Facebook is in its pre-IPO quiet period. “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,” the report, co-authored by Douglas MacMillan and Brad Stone, says. Emphasis added.

That last part is particularly interesting, but more on that later.

Facebook’s Search Feature

If you use Facebook (and given that Facebook has over 800 million users, there’s a good chance you do), you probably know that its search feature isn’t the greatest or most efficient tool for finding information. Sure, there are plenty of options to refine your search. You can view results by: all results, people, pages, places, groups, apps, events, music, web results, posts by friends, public posts, or posts in groups. Even still, the results are often unhelpful – even the filtered results.

Facebook Search Results

Given Facebook’s enormous user base and all of the content that is posted to the social network every day, a competent search engine is needed badly. Just think how much more useful Facebook would be if you could easily use it to find things. As a business, think about how much better Facebook could work for you if you could better optimize for its search feature, and it delivered your product or service’s page to people searching with relevant needs – or perhaps better yet, when their friends are talking about or checking in at your business.

Facebook As A Search Engine

Again, there are a reported two dozen engineers working on improving Facebook’s search feature. It sounds like they’re really putting a lot of time and effort into it now. If it turns out to be a major improvement and is that useful, competing with Google for searches seems inevitable at one level or another.

Consider the emphasis Google and other search engines are putting on social these days. Earlier this year, Google launched “Search Plus Your World,” delivering results much more based on your social circles – particularly your Google+ circles. One major flaw to this approach is that people just aren’t using Google+ the way they’re using Facebook, no matter how Google chooses to deem a user an active user.

For many people (about 800 million or so), a Facebook search engine would much more closely resemble “search, plus their world”.

There are quite a few interesting angles to consider, should a true Facebook search engine become a reality. Would it be available only to users? Facebook has a whole lot of public content. Being signed in would only serve to make the results more personalized – kind of like with Google today – the main difference being that personalization with Facebook data is much more likely to be relevant than personalization based on Google+ interaction. This is not a slight on Google+ as a service. It’s just a fact that Facebook has been around for far longer, and has way more active users who engage with their closest friends and family members on a daily basis, sharing tons of photos, videos, status updates and links to web content.

Would Facebook even bother to index the public web the way Google and its peers do? Right now, Facebook uses Bing to pad its search results with web results. Facebook could continue this indefinitely, or it could simply compete with Bing too, somewhere down the road. Facebook doesn’t need to index the web the way Google does, however, to put a dent into Google’s search market share. Even if it can convince users to use its own revamped search feature for certain kinds of queries, that’s queries that users don’t need Google for.

I’ve long maintained that the biggest threat to Google’s search market share is likely not the threat of a single competitor, but the diversification of search in general. People are using more apps than ever (from more devices than ever), and just don’t have to rely on Google (or other traditional search engines) for access to content the way they used to. Take Twitter search, for example, which has become the go-to destination for finding quick info on events and topics in real time. When was the last time you turned to Google’s realtime search feature? It’s been a while, because it’s been MIA since Google’s partnership with Twitter expired last year. Sometimes a Twitter search is simply more relevant than a Google search for new information, despite Google’s increased efforts in freshness.

Google may even be setting itself up to push users to a Facebook search engine, should one arise. There has been a fair amount of discontent expressed regarding Google’s addition of Search Plus Your World. Much of this has no doubt been exaggerated by the media, but there is discontent there. What if Facebook had a marketing plan to go along with this hypothetical search engine? It shouldn’t be too hard for them to play that “search plus your actual world” angle up.

They’ve already done this to some extent. Not officially, exactly, but remember “Focus On The User” from Facebook Director of Product Blake Ross (with some help from engineers at Twitter and MySpace)?

And speaking of Twitter and MySpace, who’s to say they wouldn’t support a Facebook search engine, and lend access to their respective social data to make an even bigger, highly personalized social search engine? That could be incredibly powerful.

A conversation between two Business Insider writers would suggest that we won’t see Facebook as a “favorite web search engine any time soon,” but again, it doesn’t have to replace Google to make an impact.

About a year ago, we talked about a patent Facebook was awarded, called, “Visual tags for search results generated from social network information”. The description for that was:

Search results, including sponsored links and algorithmic search results, are generated in response to a query, and are marked based on frequency of clicks on the search results by members of social network who are within a predetermined degree of separation from the member who submitted the query. The markers are visual tags and comprise either a text string or an image.

That’s something else to keep in mind.

Revenue

There’s certainly plenty of opportunity to sell more Facebook ads (which are already getting pretty popular with businesses). It’s going to be much more about revenue at Facebook in the post-IPO world. Facebook is already superior to Google in terms of ad targeting by interest and demographic, as users can be targeted based on very specific things they have “liked”. Add search to the mix, and you also get users while they’re actively seeking something out – Google’s strong point. That’s the best of both worlds.

Facebook won’t have to please shareholders by showing that it can be a better search engine than Google, but if they can create a search engine or even just an internal search feature that people want to use, there is a huge opportunity to make plenty of revenue from that. It just may also result in some portion of searches that may have otherwise gone to Google (or Yahoo, Bing, Ask or whatever) to go to Facebook instead, along with more cumulative time spent on Facebook.

Who knows? It may even set the stage for an AdSense-like ad network based on highly targeted Facebook ads. Again, revenue is going to be more important to Facebook than ever after the IPO.

What do you think? Would you use a Facebook search engine as a user? As an advertiser would you consider it an attractive option? How about an AdSense-like ad network for publishers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

New Facebook Search Engine In The Works, Should Google Worry?
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  • http://www.zariaandbellas.com Lance Dzintars

    As a business owner in gifts, collectibles and home decor, who just opened up a physical store not to long ago, I would like to see more of a challenge too Google. However, with that said I don’t want my time spent buried in uploading countless catalogs, and checking countless entries to verify they were listed correctly. While Google has tried to make themselves the best search & social media site, I still find their Google Plus site a hassle to use, and while Facebook is easier to navigate and use, neither right now have gained anything for me.

    Small businesses needs access to a customer base without time consuming headaches, hard to navigate pages and my least favorite high cost without “real” generated traffic. While I use a combination of these sites, I have more faith in BING to attract potential customers and less commonly used or known social sites.

  • http://www.onlineadvantage.co.nz/socialmediamarketing.php RGB

    I agree competition can only be good for everyone – helping to keep Google honest and focused on what the users want. The fact Google+ has found it difficult competing with Facebook suggests Facebook does have a firm hold on a sizeable market that is likely to use a Facebook Search if it can deliver comparable, if not better results than Google. The foundation is there.

  • http://www.clfonlinebiz.com coralie

    Yea I love it. i think face book should be a search engine.

  • http://tech-sharing.com Krishna

    Once people loved Google as a great search engine. Now Google is linking their advertising (see the latest Australian court ruling), and all that is owned by Google to search. So, though the company claims to deliver unbiased search results, people are increasingly unhappy about Google now. Though, Facebook may not equal Google in delivering comparable results, it is only a matter of time when Google will end up as an advertising and business company.

  • http://www.vougist.com Amanda

    Searching Facebook is cumbersome and I am never sure whether to search via keyword or to attempt and use their search “tools”. Improving this feature would be great for Facebook and I would be more inclined to use it in search of new pages, people, etc.

    As far as competing with Google, that will not happen. Facebook has a lot to gain by simply improving their internal search and has no reason to go “Napoleon” on the internet quite yet.

    Amanda aka The Vougist

  • Tommo

    I wouldnt use facebook for search personally…

  • Anderson Silva is Sonnen’s b…t

    The end of Google as we know it. It’d be stupid for Facebook not to enter search. It doesn’t matter whether Google is millions of years ahead in the search arena. Just the news alone (when they start) will tank Google. It doesn’t matter whether Facebook will have a crappy search engine. They have some sick cult going on there and loyalty is at an all time high. Those users will use Facebook to search. Google needs to disappear. Nobody likes them anymore.

  • http://www.lerentech.com Syracuse Web Design

    I just finished the article in the recent Fast Company saying that if Facebook did get into search it would only be to keep Google on its toes. But I think Facebook search could be a big revenue generator if it were used a lot. It would be a great place for businesses to advertise if users were searching there for products and services. They could put sponsored stories along with search results. For example if I searched for pizza, I could see what my friends recommend as well as paid ads.

  • ROGER

    GOD yes!!! We “MUST HAVE” at least one decent search engine for the facebook games alone! I been playing the SIMS Social game on facebook and I keep having to restart my game every 2 minutes over and over again? All I get when I play now is an ERROR message telling me to restart the game to reset my browser! I can restart it a thousand times and it will still stops working? I have now downloaded newer Flash reader, emptied the cache, the temporary files, History and nothing works! I finally got a response from fb saying I need to try a better search engine? YEAH RIGHT!!!
    OK, so I have now tried Google, yahoo, bing and what was supposed to be the best for fb games Mozilla Foxfire and still nothing works!
    Yes! YES! YES! AND GOD YES!!! Someone please INVENT ONE REALLY GOOD SEARCH ENGINE. PLEASE BEFORE I END UP PULLING THE REST OF MY HAIR OUT!!!
    Thanks for asking us the obvious

  • Premnath Vishwakarma

    this is simply shows as—–Don’t worry about your enemies but always worry about your friend.

  • http://WWW.FPLORER.COM Thomas

    Try

  • http://WWW.FPLORER.COM Thomas

    Try Fplorer.com

  • http://www.JiansNet.com Jian

    Given Facebook’s lackluster performance in the stock market, I doubt they now have time to consider doing a full on search engine. Their top priority is to fix their biz model and be profitable enough to meet wall street’s requirement.

    Also, search is not an easy problem to solve, if facebook wants to do a web search engine, they are starting from the bottom of the hill, where Google is already at the top.

    The best they can do, and I suspect, is that microsoft bing will partner with FB to provide web search.

  • Niteshrai

    Hi

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