Facebook Search. Myth or Madness?


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Thumbnail image for facebooksearch1.jpgThe web is swirling with conjecture that Facebook is going to roll out a search product to take Google on head on. Interestingly, this follows rumors that "Google Me" was a new product launching to compete with Facebook. Some industry pundits believe that the search product launch is imminent and one that will differentiate itself by incorporating "like button" recommendations and open graph technologies into the algorithm that displays the search results. Others think that the current on domain Facebook search implementation is so shoddy that Facebook will first fix that before moving onto something grander.

Here's my take. Google has 20,000 employees of whom probably 80% are focused on search in some fashion or the other mostly as engineers. Facebook has 1,400 employees of which no more than 300-400 are engineers according to company insiders. Building and optimizing a search engine is no easy task and it is unlikely that Facebook will do this at this time. Yes, they are incorporating third party results (only pages your friends have liked) into its own search engine but I wouldn't say these efforts are significant as yet. They've got too much on their plate at the moment with the social plugins, virtual currencies, the core Facebook platform to optimize and location aware functionality to build. Not to mention the fact that running a search engine requires a huge infrastructure investment something that not even Facebook can support today. Sure, a search product could mean significant revenue very quickly but that's never been a priority for Mark Zuckerberg.

Instead, here's what I think Facebook should do. They should partner with Microsoft to extend Bing to include the influence of "liking" into the search algorithm. Remember Microsoft owns a small percentage of Facebook. The "liking" functionality is a direct endorsement and arguably would improve search results. This partnership would benefit Facebook as it'll really encourage website owners (egged on by the search engine marketing community) to implement the like button and the social graph api everywhere across their sites. Facebook will also be a player in the search game without the huge costs and could probably get a small ad revenue share too.

In other words, it would be a more effective and efficient way to compete with Google without the huge investments. It'll improve search engine results and it'll promote other Facebook products and services notably the proliferation of its social plugins. Go for it Facebook - extend your Microsoft partnership to include this.

Update: The rumors have now been confirmed that Google is going to launch a Facebook competitor sometime in the near future. Apparently, they have a very large team working on it. This isn't too surprising given how threatened Google feels. What's most interesting is that their new network really needs to combine a lot of their existing services - Search, Profiles, Buzz, Orkut, Picasso, Wave and Blogger in a seamless, consistent, immersive and friction free user experience. That's where the real challenge is and I hope they recognize that.

Image courtesy Facebooking101.com


Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.

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