What if Facebook Goes Search While Google Struggles to Go Social?

Facebook Has a Lot of Pieces of the Puzzle in Place

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Facebook and Google don’t much acknowledge that they’re direct competitors, though there’s no question that in many ways they are. Eric Schmidt recently said Bing was it’s main competitor, and Mark Zuckerberg said its new messaging system isn’t an email killer and that "Gmail is a really good product."

It’s true that Bing poses a significant threat to Google’s search market share if Microsoft’s stars align the right way (Windows Phone is a huge success, people search from within Facebook more, etc.), but it is Facebook that is practically omnipresent throughout the majority of the web. You’d be hard pressed to find many authoritative sites that don’t have some kind of Facebook integration, even if it’s just "like" buttons. It is all of these many, many integrations together that make Facebook a very dangerous opponent to Google. 

More to Google Than Search

First off, it’s worth noting that Google has its tentacles planted in many different spaces from search, to business productivity apps, advertising, social media, online video, email, and much more. But Facebook is growing into a monster that could potentially embody many of these same things, and do some of them better. Facebook is not there yet, but it hasn’t been around that long yet either, and look how far it’s already come. 

Out of all of Google’s products, it’s search and advertising that are the company’s real bread and butter. Google has sat safely atop the search market for quite some time now, but the search landscape is shifting, largely in part to social media: people are connecting at levels never before possible, and these personal connections (new and existing) can be one of the most helpful indicators of search relevance – not necessarily for all types of queries, but for many of them. 

Facebook as a Search Engine

Facebook, while not generally thought of as a search engine these days (with good reason), has the strongest collection of person-to-person interactions on the entire web. Google covets that, and is still trying to find its strategy to match or better Facebook’s. According to Mashable, the "social layer" Google keeps talking about (aka: the "Google Me" initiative) has been pushed back to a possible Spring 2011 launch. On this fast-paced real-time web we have today, that’s a long time, though we do see examples of Google tweaking products in this direction on a fairly regular basis already. 

Meanwhile, Facebook’s head start in building this data with over half a billion people around the globe continues to grow. Ask yourself this: What if Facebook started putting the kind of emphasis on search that Google is currently putting on social? How much easier would it be for Facebook to develop a really useful search engine than it would be for Google to develop a really useful social network? 

Consider that the relevancy of Google’s results are often criticized as it is (with a recent New York Times story not helping their case), not to mention investigated for being anti-competitive.

One key point in the Google vs. Facebook conversation that often goes overlooked is that Facebook recently acquired search company Chai Labs, which was founded by a former Google exec. "Our semantic search platform uses proprietary crawling, artificial intelligence and data mining technologies to analyze and extract insights from millions of real-time data points across the web," the company explains. "Our goal is to give consumers the most comprehensive, unbiased, up-to-date information they need to make informed and confident purchase decisions. We are laser-focused on simplifying complexity due to over abundance of online sources about a specific topic, leading to information overload."

So that’s what they’re about, and Facebook is ordinarily more focused on talent than products, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this kind of thing might be integrated into Facebook itself.

So what if Facebook one day decides to make a big search announcement, promote its search feature as a "new and improved" alternative? Remember it still has Bing web results that can fill in the gaps left by its own offerings. Bing and Facebook have already cozied up to each other, and there’s no telling just how deep their relationship will get. Bing will no doubt take any shot it can to crack into Google’s market share. 

Facebook has also been encouraging the addition of different types of information into its network with things like Facebook Questions and Wikipedia-like community pages. Answer site results and Wikipedia entries are incredibly common among the top results for Google queries. With Facebook search, Facebook would likely point you to its similar offerings directly in Facebook. 

But would people use Facebook for search? They just might if Facebook promotes it right. They’re already trying to get people to set their home pages as Facebook. What if they made the search box a little more prominent? It seems to have worked for Twitter to get people using Twitter search, which has proven to be quite useful for news-related queries.  

Facebook Questions


Former Google AdSense product manager Gokul Rajaram, who Facebook acquired with Chai Labs, is now in charge of the company’s ad technology, according to Liz Gannes at All Things Digital. This is very interesting in itself and adds fuel to the fire of speculation that one day Facebook will unleash an AdSense-like network, which could be even more powerful than Google’s own in terms of ad relevancy (being how targeting would be based on what users have already told Facebook they like). Facebook has made no indication that it will do this, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe that they won’t, with so many pieces of such a major puzzle seemingly falling into place, from the acquisition of Rajaram to the saturation of Facebook into the very fabric of the web (Facebook Connect and the Open Graph). 

Other Ways Facebook Competes with Google

Right now, Facebook isn’t competing much with Google Search or with AdSense. This is all speculative. It’s about the potential that is there. Very strong potential. 

But there are other ways that Facebook is directly competing with Google already. For one, you have the whole Facebook as a center of communication thing. A couple weeks ago, Facebook announced its new messaging system and email addresses, while Zuckerberg may have downplayed it, this is clearly a competitor to Gmail. Some think Google should be worried about this. Beyond just email, Google has already been trying to transform Gmail into a broader communication center, adding things like chat, voice chat, etc.

Facebook competes with Google’s YouTube and Picasa. People can upload videos and photos to Facebook just as easily as they can to YouTube or Picasa, and there’s a better chance that their friends will see them if they post to Facebook because they’ll go right to their news feeds. Facebook has a long way to go to get to YouTube’s status in terms of video, but it’s been moving up the charts in this category, and if Facebook were to place the emphasis on search I’m talking about, it could help video views tremendously. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine. 

Google has the browser and the mobile OS. Facebook doesn’t need them. Facebook’s already everywhere you go when you’re using these devices. It’s on Android (not to mention every other mobile OS). It’s on practically the entire web (as mentioned). Newer browsers that may or may not catch on in the future are even heavily integrating Facebook into their functionality, and on the others, users can opt to do so themselves via add-ons. 

Then you have Facebook’s Notes to Googles’ Blogger. Facebook’s Payments to Google’s Checkout. Facebook’s Applications to Google’s Chrome Web Apps. Facebook’s Pages and Lists (and news feed) to Google’s News. Facebook’s News Feed to Google’s Reader and Buzz. The list goes on. 


Update: Liz Gannes reports that Facebook Engineering Director Aditya Agarwal, whose projects included Facebook’s newsfeed, search, and ads, is leaving the company. This could be significant in the company’s approach to search and advertising. 

Report: Launch of Google’s Social Project Delayed
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  • http://www.moxby.org.uk Martin Oxby – Web Designer

    As a web designer and average SEO, I would welcome a bit more equality in the search. Google seems to want a slice out of everyone else’s pie, but won’t share any of its own.

    Facebook is in a pretty powerful position with the alleged membership levels it has and therefore could bring changes or ‘tweak user behaviour’ to get it to use its search function – and why not?

    Search – whether by Google, Bing, Yahoo or anyone else for that matter – is about delivering the information people want as quickly as possible. Although people may ‘favour’ Google at the moment, there’s no reason why that can’t change.

    And I could see it easier for Facebook to go search than for Google to go social, because people will switch a search provider easier than they will switch the way they stay in touch with friends and family and chat etc. It’s going to take some huge persuading on Google’s part to convince people their social network is better.

    We shall watch the story unfold, but it will surprise me if ‘Google Me’ succeeds.

    • Chris Crum

      It’s going to be a very interesting year watching these two battle it out. I think we’ve barely seen the beginning of what Facebook has in store.

  • http://living-in-washingtondc.com Living in Washington DC

    I think Google does a great job at what it does and so does Facebook. However, I doubt that Facebook would be successful as a search engine.

    • Chris Crum

      It certainly would have its work cut out for it, but it doesn’t have to have Google’s market share to be considered successful, and I think it has the potential to be pretty useful.

  • http://www.racknine.com Rick McKnight

    Facebook is not meant for Search
    and Google is not meant for Social media.

    They will both fail, if they even try. It’s not about money or resources, it’s about total dedication, understanding the philosophy of the enterprise and having the right frame of mind. Microsoft is a prime example of what I’m saying. Fox-controlled mySpace is another.

    • Chris Crum

      You may be right, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss either.

    • Guest

      What’s a MySpace? Isn’t that kinda like a Justin Bieber?

  • http://www.EZopolis.com Apparel Supplier

    I really don’t think google will have anything to worry about, even if Facebook goes search. Simply because most links that are posted on facebook walls are obtained from a google search in the first place.

  • Guest

    “dome of them better. Facebook is not there yet, but it hasn’t been around that long yet eiher,”

    If only one would make a cross-website spell checker, eh?

    • Chris Crum

      If only spell checkers could keep up with all the words and names that come along with writing for this industry where you could write an article and not have 80 red lines for legitimate words, it would be a lot harder to overlook the mistakes.

  • http://www.sitebyjames.com/ james

    I can only make a comparison between mac or pc seeing that both giants are considered an end all be all.

    People had a really easy time making a switch from PC to Mac, mainly because it truly was just better, I think both Facebook and Google in a broad sense are comparable to a PC in terms of shine, but certainly not lovability.

    Seeing how both platforms educate, or allow users to customize their experience will play a big role in how the public perceives both. Facebook could very well move into search and Google into social, but I think currently the public is educated to recognize the two distinctly different interfaces as two entirely different services, so no matter how good they might become under the hood, how the interface is presented will decide how they perceived.

    Perhaps Facebook turning into search and Google turning into social will cause both platforms to resemble each other, or perhaps they will become vastly different from each other, moving even further away from each other in terms of service diversity.

    just ranting…

  • Eric Crizer

    I would love to have everything on face book “for Free: of coarse that would show those other guy’s a thing or too!

  • http://acsiomed.com Anton

    Long live social networking! Facebook best!

  • http://www.misslin.eu chris

    Ok, FB has near half a billion users but for this essay I will use my personal experience. I got 56 friends with about a third logging around once a year and another third daily, I belong to the latter, otherwise I wouldn’t know ^-^.
    Can FB be successful at advertising? Definitely. I like psychology (e.g.: http://www.scientificamerican.com/mind-and-brain ) and likely to mark their article as like. My friend will see and might give it a try. Ok it’s a slow process but FB can also match people with same interest and suggest this site to any like-minded FB user, or sale the suggestion.
    So ad-sense is jut around the corner.
    Another example: People getting married or engaged could be easily targeted. More and more business have a FB presence and for better or worse, what happens within FB stays within FB.
    A third example to highlight the previous point: FB shows Youtube without sending the user on you-tube site.

    Where FB has to be careful is not to bombard user with adverts. They should remember that both FB and Google were successful because they kept their proposition simple and uncluttered (compared to bibo or Myspace)

    But knowing Google I know they will stay ahead for a foreseeable future and might even hold on until a new kid arrives and threatens FB.

  • http://www.techdex.net Dexter Nelson

    Despite all of the marketing hype about the “Google Slap” and the recent big publicity of Facebook, when you do the research, Google continues to be the #1 site in existence, year after year outperforming everyone else.

    I’ll let everyone in on a little secret. Do you know why a lot of internet marketers pushed to use Facebook instead of Google? No one can exactly pin point the time, however I found that there were two major things happening at the same time, that I strongly believed contributed to what I call “The Great Facebook Migration” – and it is in part responsible for the major moves Facebook has been making to capitalize on it.

    Back in 2007-2008, the Federal gov’t started cracking down on credit card companies for what they called practices unfair to consumers, but it didn’t stop at things like credit card rates.

    Credit card companies cracked down in what we now know is the Wallet Pop. There was a major backlash in the business world that wasn’t talked about. The focus, because of the economy, was on the banks.

    What we didn’t see was that the banks passed the buck to the business for their practices, and the credit card companies began to hold companies responsible for their bad practices. When they did their research, only a small percentage, (I believe it was around 6 or 7 percent), of their profits came from re-billing, but the highest chargebacks (around the 90 percent range) was also from re-billing.

    They really changed up the game and changed the rules. Whole Internet-based models were suddenly illegal on the back end and people were going out of business – mostly internet marketers and home-based businesses that bought into using models that had continuity-based subscriptions on the back end.

    The credit card companies focused mostly on large corporations which didn’t trickle down for a while. Then Google took the initiative and started cracking down on Adwords, etc. for sites that was now illegal, and they changed up the policy to exclude certain types of ad practices as well.

    Remember Google’s focus at the time was to improve quality of search results and the crackdown gave them the perfect opportunity to capitalize on what was going on and to not just stay, but dominate the market share. If you do the market research and look back at the history, the number match up.

    The irony is that if a lot of people actually read the policy notices they would have know what to do to avoid it, but of course many of them don’t, and suddenly a lot of Internet marketers found it much more difficult to do their campaigns and many went out of business.

    They went to the one place that allowed them to continue doing what they were doing and that gave birth to the Google slap and the big rush to Facebook. We’ve all seen the hype about how Facebook is now how Google was back then and so on.

    The brains behind Facebook capitalized on this sudden change and then came the great Facebook advertising rush. On every profile the ads came up “Advertise on Facebook” and then they started improving on everything business and marketing related from changes in ad templates to groups.

    Take a look at the demographics for Facebook’s and Google’s traffic. First, a very large portion of Facebook’s traffic comes from search engines.

    If Facebook wants to compete, they need to do more than just say “Gmail isn’t a real product” because quite frankly, it is, and a darned good one, but even more than that, Google already is everywhere from desktop computers to phones, apps, 75% of the search engine share, and with the new partnering series, they’ve acquired, Google will be in your home through television – Google TV is already in Beta.

    On top of that, according to the latest Alexa.com studies, the time spent in a typical visit to Facebook is roughly 32 minutes, with 34 seconds spent on each pageview, vs Google’s hours, with several minutes per pageview.

    Studies also show that Google is more popular among the widest range of internet users across all demographics, where as Facebook leans more towards, (according to Alexa.com), “disproportionately women under the age of 45.”

    If you do the same research on Quantcast.com, the numbers back up Alexa.com.

    Facebook goes search? They can try but it’s not going to work unless they have some major, major changes.

    They would first have to improve their public standing across all demographics first and foremost. There is no question, no two ways about it, and no way around it. Facebook right now is not friendly to a lot of the demographics.

    The bad news is that Facebook, while their attention and traffic is rising, is not making any changes to address those issues. And as of right now, Facebook continues to have lower customer satisfaction and privacy issues.

    The upside though is that, considering women are a huge lion’s share of buyers, Facebook does tend to favor that demographic. That’s good news for advertisers to target that demographic.

    You also can’t ever eliminate Google as a viable solution. A lot of internet marketers will continue to push for the Facebook switch and most will talk bad about Google, however, in spite of all of the Facebook is #1 talk, Google continues to dominate as king of the hill in the #1 spot year after year.

    Facebook has a very tough climb if they are to effectively compete with Google, or, instead of changing their game to compete, they can do what Myspace did and stay in their demographic and dominate. Good luck to any other social site trying to get a growing share of entertainment to compete with them.

    I think Facebook is shooting themselves in the foot. The more they are trying to do, the more alienated consumers are becoming. If I could sit down and tell Facebook execs where their strengths are, I would say to capitalize on their foothold on social network.

    Their strength has always been the direct reach to consumers on a personal level and that’s what they need to capitalize on because their social nature is what made their success to begin with.

    If anyone is interested in the demographics and research, I’ll be glad to send them a copy of the report along with a free market analysis of your own product or service. Just visit, http://blog.techdex.net

    TechDex Development & Solutions

  • https://www.searchen.com Searchen

    Kinda makes you wonder if Facebook is already secretly crawling and indexing the web. Might be a good time to look a little closer at those logs if and when any IP’s are hitting more than normal…. Just maybe…

  • Guest

    I hope FaceBook does search and compete against google.. Google needs to be cut down, they are working with the government about monitoring the internet, and of course google is wanting to help the government so the two can monitor and control everything we do on the web just like china does. A very bad combination. Google has great stuff, but now they want power and control to secure there position just like the government wants more power and control. I think Im feeling ill.

    • http://www.misslin.eu chris

      And you don’t think FB will collaborate with any government?
      Any successful company attracts gvt interest once they are big enough.

      Tesco’s shopping habit (loyalty card), borrowing patterns at libraries and so on… I don’t think any is whiter than the other and there is nothing they can do either. so live with it.

      By the way, loads of countries are worried by FB, and not just the usual suspect (Russia, China), as they think it’s the CIA trying to map them so to manipulate them better.

  • You Know Me

    If FB does compete with G for ads then maybe Google will stop treating their partners like total crap.

    Google is lowering Adsense payouts and domain parking payouts. On top of that they are imposing all kinds of hurdles and restrictions on our traffic and clicks in a guise for them to keep more of our publisher dollars. Why do we get less and less and their earnings keep going up and up? Internet advertising is 15% higher than last year, but I and everyone I know is making about 30% less on our ad clicks from Google. Honestly, I have already started going direct and cutting out Google. If Google had played fair this would have never happened and I would still be showing more Google Adsense ads. Bye Google !!!

    I hope Google gets what’s coming to them, damn bastards. I literally hate them now with burning passion.

    • http://blog.techdex.net Dexter Nelson

      Don’t buy into the Internet Marketing hype. Any advertising service and campaign managers have restrictions. If you don’t play by the rules you get shut down. It’s easy to target Google because well? they’re Google.

      If you really were playing by Google’s terms you’d save a lot of time and money. Google’s rewards are set up so that it saves you money, IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU”RE DOING. Most of my campaigns have switched to PPA (Pay Per Action) instead of PPC.

      It automatically happens when you reach a certain number of traffic, then Google meets you half way and says ok, you’ve done great with this, so let’s save you some money. Now? you only pay when there’s an action (sign up, purchase, etc.).

      The only changes that Google made was to help the credit card companies weed out bad advertisers who had illegal set ups on the back end. If you ran a legit business? Those changes would never affect you.

      If you’re having that many problems, I would highly take a look at your business model and see why you’re getting so much trouble with it.

  • http://www.games-console-bundles.com Julius

    Facebooks’ capacity of socializing the entire world wide web and also stepping forward as a marketing platform. Google had been ranking 10the no.1 search engine for so many years where Facebook is also no.1 social network. If someone has to do what the other does then it’ll be chaos..

    This sounds crap.. Facebook + Search = FaceOogle
    Google + Social = GoogFace

    not funny right..

  • chen

    I have no doubt that Facebook will get into search sooner that some might think and will dethrone Google on search. Just imagine a search box on FB’s home page with a “Search The Web Here” box. It would be devastating for Google. It is a mistake to think all those people on Facebook think like us, web programmers, designers, etc. Most of those people wouldn’t recognize a t-bone about what a browser is let alone being loyal to some Google engine. They will only use that search box from then on ’til the day they die as it is on their favorite site. For most people, Facebook is the internet. Of course, FB will have to make sure to return relevant results. Anyway, just on the news alone, Google’s stock would tank.

  • http://www.likeateam.com Dale

    I think that this would blur the lines. I could be wrong but I think both have a unique place.

  • http://www.zingseo.com David Nguyen – SEO Consultant

    Great article, very informative.
    One of the things I am beginning to find annoying about Google is that there is getting to be too much clutter. I use google to search for stuff. Now I have maps all down one side of the page and what I get in search is often different from what it used to be before. If their ‘social’ efforts are also going to clog up the page then I will probably look elsewhere.
    Only problem is that Bings results are odd in comparison and often don’t really give me what I want. Maybe I need to learn how to use Bing.
    If Facebook introduce a search function that is easy to use and the results are clear and uncluttered then maybe I would use such a service.
    I don’t believe that Google will continue to hold the marketshare in search that it does for too much longer.
    Look at what happened to MySpace when Facebook arrived.
    I know Google does research and wants to provide what people want but can it be everything to everyone?

  • Guest

    As a web developer and part of a large corporation, and into communications, I would immediatly throw my computer and every server and computer in the building into the nearest dumpsters and quit if Facebook goes any further. I, for one, like most web developers I know, and as well many respectable corporations and businesses block Facebook on their internal networks anyways – reason is, employees would be on it all the time and do nothing else. We already see how it has turned people into addicted idiots with no life and “socializing’ in cyberspace rather than the real thing. Now to add search? Everything will soon be @ Facebook. We already see some companies advertisiong their company as www.facebook.com/companyname !! Talk about losing ones identy, now we are losing the corporate identy to Facebook.

    Yes, 500 million people CAN be wrong.

  • Guest

    The reason why facebook became popular was because it was a clean looking, no nonsense interface to socialize. Myspace was great, and there were others far superior as well long before Facebook, but they had too much. Now, we see Facebook adding and adding…soon people will get sick of it like many others. There are already people I know who gave it up. Too many false friends, too many contacts, too much of everything.

  • http://www.hypnosismindpower.com Mark

    It is just me that thinks the internet world is big enough for both Facebook and Google as they offer two completely different services. You go to google to find what you are looking for, you go to Facebook to catch up with your friends, not be given a load of information based on your social graph (although you get this without a choice now).

    I use both services a lot and for completely different things. If I were at either company I would be pushing for them to perfect the services they currently (which at times are quite flawed – privacy anyone?!) offer rather than trying to compete with each other. This would make the internet a lot better as a whole!

  • http://tvnewspot.org tv news

    Great article, very informative. One of the things I am beginning to find annoying about Google is that there is getting to be too much clutter.

  • Guest

    I don;t know enough to comment. I prefer for them to stay- as is. This appears to be greedy on Googles part.

  • Guest

    I’m pretty sure Facebook will be the next search engine. Google has gotten way too greedy to the point it is starting to become useless (search is a joke) and annoying (constant message reminding you to link your google accounts). Every time I go to youtube I see that annoying message to link accounts. That other account ain’t mine stupid! That’s my brother’s damn it! Quit being so annoying!

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