We've talked about this concept a number of times in the past. In 2010, for example, we ran an article: "What if Facebook Goes Search While Google Struggles to Go Social?"
It's interesting how relevant this conversation still is over a year later. That article was about half a year before Google launched Google+, and there was a lot of uncertainty about what Google might do in social. The company had not had a lot of luck in that area with previous products, and there was a lot of skepticism about whether Google could ever truly succeed in social.
Sure, there is still some skepticism, but I think Google+ has surprised a lot of people by how successful it's become already. It's growing like a weed, but Google's strategy of integrating it with other Google products is much more aggressive than any of the company's past social strategies.
Now, it's heavily integrated with Google's main product - search. This is the one Google product that it is probably safe to say that MOST PEOPLE use. That bodes well for future growth of Google+ (as long as regulators don't put an end to it).
To reiterate a point I made in that old article, Facebook has the strongest collection of person-to-person interactions on the entire web. That was true then, and it is still true. The only difference is that Facebook has several hundred million more users than it did back then, so this case is all the stronger now.
John Battelle (who wrote the book "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture", mind you) has brought the whole Facebook as a search engine discussion back to the forefront, in light of Google's recent addition of Google+ integration into search results, and he makes some pretty good points.
"Both Facebook and the app economy are invisible to Google’s crawlers," he writes. "To be fair, there are billions of Facebook pages in Google’s index, but it’s near impossible to 'organize them and make them universally available' without Facebook’s secret sauce (its social graph and related logged in data). This is what those 2009 negotiations broke down over, after all."
"The app economy, on the other hand, is just plain invisible to anyone," he continues. "Sure, you can go to one of ten or so app stores and search for apps to use, but you sure can’t search apps the way you search, say, a web site. Why? First, the use case of apps, for the most part, is entirely personal, so apps have not been built to be 'searchable.' I find this extremely frustrating, because why wouldn’t I want to 'Google' the hundreds of rides and runs I’ve logged on my GPS app, as one example?"
"Secondly, the app economy is invisible to Google because data use policies of the dominant app universe – Apple – make it nearly impossible to create a navigable link economy between apps, so developers simply don’t do it," adds Battelle. "And as we all know, without a navigable link economy, 'traditional' search breaks down."
Of course Google has a pretty extensive app universe with the Android Market, fragmented as it may be. There's also the Chrome app ecosystem and the Google+ ecosystem, which already has games.
While I'm not exactly in the "the web is dead because of apps" crowd, I can certainly acknowledge the fact that people are using apps a lot these days to interact with the Internet. I don't think Google's version of the searchable, open web, will become obsolete anytime soon, but there's room for competition via a different breed of search in the way that Battelle's talking about. With or without the help of Bing, Facebook could seize the tremendous opportunity it has here.
"Imagine a world where the majority of app builders integrate with Facebook’s Open Graph, instrumenting your personal data through Facebook such that your data becomes searchable. (If you think that’s crazy, remember how most major companies and app services have already fallen all over themselves to leverage Open Graph)," says Battelle. "Then, all that data is hoovered into Facebook’s 'search index', and integrated with your personal social graph. Facebook then builds an interface to all you[r] app data, add in your Facebook social graph data, and then perhaps tosses in a side of Bing so you can have the whole web as a backdrop, should you care to."
This is not only a tremendous opportunity for Facebook, but for Bing as well. If you're concerned about Google's competitive practices, think about that for a second.
The fact is, that people already search on Facebook all the time. Tell me you've never searched for a Facebook Page or a person using Facebook's search. Businesses are all over Facebook. Think about if Facebook really started taking search seriously.
Facebook and Google are obviously already competitors in some areas (including engineering talent). Competition makes companies explore new strategies to maintain their edge. Microsoft is already Google's main competitor (I'm not even going to get into the potential that Xbox and its new platform brings to the table).
What's that old saying? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Well, two of Facebook's enemies are already pretty good friends, and neither of them like the competitive approach Google is taking these days.
By the way, Facebook is about to enable a lot more data sharing.
Should Facebook try to compete with Google in search? Tell us what you think.