Facebook Is Doing Search. Should Google Be Concerned?

    September 14, 2012
    Chris Crum

Facebook is doing search. We’ve been talking about this for quite some time, but now it has come straight from the mouth of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Should Google consider Facebook a threat in the search department? Do you think Facebook can make search better with all of its data? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Zuckerberg was interviewed by Michael Arrington at TechCrunch Disrupt Tuesday evening, where he was asked about the possibility of Facebook getting into search. TechCrunch quotes him as saying, “We’re basically doing 1 billion queries a day and we’re not even trying.”

He’s also quoted as saying, “Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have. At some point we’ll do it. We have a team working on it,” and “Search engines are really evolving to give you a set of answers, ‘I have a specific question, answer this question for me.’”

So, from this I take it that Facebook is working towards building some kind of major search offering beyond its current search feature, and that answers will be a major component of that.

Interestingly enough, Facebook seems to have put its Facebook Questions offering to death. This could have factored in here, but apparently Facebook is choosing a different route.

In July, The Sydney Morning Herald talked with Lars Rasmussen, Facebook’s Director of Engineering, and a former Googler (the guy behind Google Maps). In that interview, Rasmussen said he was working on “something very specific which is super exciting,” but stressed that it’s not a “go-after-Google product.”

But, Google has said similar things about how Google+ isn’t a Facebook competitor in the past. It’s all tied together, and these companies are competing, no matter how they want to spin it. They’re competing for time spent online, online identity, and ultimately for ad dollars (not to mention other potential sources of revenue).

Google has plenty of reasons to make regulators see Facebook as a direct competitor. Mark Zuckerberg may have just helped out with that. It’s actually been quite a week in Google’s favor as far as the antitrust discussion goes. The company won a related case in Brazil, a new FTC nominee has written papers opposing antitrust regulation against Google, a report has come out talking about Amazon stealing away more product searches from Google, and then these comments from Zuckerberg.

“I can’t predict what will happen in the future but I don’t think it will make sense for us at this stage to even begin to think about doing web search,” Rasmussen said in the interview. “Google does that so well.”

Well, it has been about two months, so perhaps now is the time. Based on Zuckerberg’s comments, it seems that they’re at least thinking about it.

It is interesting that he said, “Google does that so well,” and not “Google and Bing,” or just “Bing,” considering Facebook’s partnership with Bing. Bing has Facebook social features and Facebook uses Bing for web search results. Microsoft is also an investor in Facebook.

It remains to be seen whether BIng will play a significant role in any search offering that Facebook may have up its sleeve, but clearly Bing isn’t satisfied with the “Google does that so we” philosophy.

As I talked about in another article, however, Facebook’s search offering doesn’t necessarily have to compete with Google in every way to be a relevant product. Twitter Search, for example, isn’t a Google killer, but it sure fills a void that Google is leaving with its lack of realtime search.

Did you know that more people are starting product searches with Amazon and less with Google than they were a few years ago? Amazon search is by no means a Google killer, but it’s taking away searches from Google, just like Twitter is, not to mention countless other sites and apps. Combined, all of these other ways of searching for information can take significantly away from Google searches, and like Amazon and Twitter, Facebook is a pretty big source of information.In one way in particular, it has a major leg up on Google: social data.

In July, Facebook announced that it has 955 million active users. All of them have personal social connections that can be used in a way that Google just can’t. Google can do whatever it wants with Google+, but Facebook is where the real social landscape is, and there’s a lot of potential for Facebook to do something greatly damaging to Google searches here.

Also consider that iOS 6, coming to most iPhone and iPad models (including the new iPhone 5) and the iPod Touch this month will feature heavy Facebook integration. How much data will this add to Facebook? Probably more than any of us can imagine.

“Now it’s easier than ever to interact with the world’s largest social network,” says Apple. “And there’s no need to leave your app to do it. Share a photo to Facebook right from Camera or Photos. Post your location right from Maps. Brag about a high score right from Game Center. If you have your hands full, just ask Siri to post for you. You need to sign in to Facebook only once, and you’ll be off and sharing. Never miss another birthday or get-together, since Facebook events are integrated into Calendar. And your Facebook friends’ profile information is integrated into Contacts, so when they update an email address or phone number you automatically stay up to date. Now that’s something to post about.”

Facebook on iOS

From a business perspective, think about how many brands are on Facebook, engaging with fans and customers, running Pages/Timelines, selling goods, advertising, pushing social campaigns and apps, etc. There is an entire business ecosystem already existent within Facebook, and there’s little question that any major search offering from Facebook would serve to grow this and make it more useful to both businesses and customers (and likely add a lot of revenue for Facebook itself).

Unfortunately, all we can do is speculate about how Facebook will do search at this point, and frankly, that probably won’t do anybody much good, but at least now, we have confirmation from Facebook’s leader that Facebook is indeed thinking about search.

I don’t expect that it’s that far off. Facebook, as it needs to find new revenue streams, has already been putting ads in its search box. I wonder if we’ll see something at f8 (Facebook’s developer conference) this year.

What would you like to see from a Facebook search engine? Is it a good idea? As a business, what kinds of features would you like to see? How about As a user? Would you even use a Facebook search engine? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.