Facebook is officially not interested in doing web search. Officially. For right now.
Take that how you will. The Sydney Morning Herald published an interview with Lars Rasmussen, Facebook's Director of Engineering, and former Googler (he's the guy behind Google Maps).
Here is an interesting snippet from the interview:
“I am working on something very specific which is super exciting but it hasn't launched yet so I can't tell you much about it,” he says.
What it is not, he stresses, is a go-after-Google product.
“There are occasional articles out there about how people either speculate about us doing web search or people encouraging us to do web search,” he says, dismissing these reports as journalistic scuttlebutt.
“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. Google does that so well.”
First of all, it's funny that he says Google does that well, rather than "Google and Bing" or just "Bing," considering that Bing is Facebook's partner on web search and powers Facebook's web search results. Perhaps that's the former Googler in him.
Secondly, any Facebook search product that will apparently soon be unveiled, doesn't necessarily have to be a "go after Google product" to give Google problems. Look at Twitter's search feature. It certainly doesn't aim to kill Google, but it does fill a major gap in Google's offerings. Google simply can't provide the realtime search power that Twiter can, without Twitter (their deal fell apart last year), so Twitter has something to offer in search that Google doesn't.
What other widely-used social service has data that Google doesn't have access to? I think you know the answer, and it's much more widely used than even Twitter.
It wouldn't do any of us any good to speculate too much about what Facebook's search offering might entail, but the point is that it doesn't have to be an all out web search engine in the image of Google, Yahoo, Bing and others. It can be something different, and still be very significant to the search market and the Internet at large. Facebook has something like 900 million users these days. Sites all over the web are connected to Facebook's Open Graph. It's looking like Facebook may soon play a greater role in ecommerce, as well as personal finance (and the buying of physical goods and services).
All of this calls for a greater search offering than what Facebook has today. Google, by the way, could also be considered a competitor to Facebook in these areas.
The major search engines seem to agree that social signals are significant to search. No company on the planet has stronger social signals than Facebook, and that has to be worth something to search. Perhaps it doesn't make sense for Facebook to launch a web search engine right now, but I'm not sure I agree that it doesn't make sense for Facebook to even think about doing so. Either way, when that many people are using Facebook, the social network is essentially a web of its own.
By the way, Facebook has already started testing ads in the search bar. This may be a precursor to something larger.
Hat tip to Matt McGee for pointing to the interview.