Google founder Larry Page’s shot across Facebook's bow in an interview with Charlie Rose on Monday night generated plenty of headlines Tuesday, but Page got off without really answering Rose’s original question: Is Google “worried or not worried about Facebook’s competition in search?”
We spent Tuesday tracking down experts who could speculate on if and when Facebook may try to compete against Google in search, and envision what Facebook’s version of search may look like.
As the social network’s share price continued to tank in its first full week of trading, and with former AdWeek editor Michael Wolff saying it was nothing more than another ad-supported website, Facebook will face pressure to find new revenue streams. For many observers, search seems like a likely tactic.
“I have a strong feeling that Facebook will almost likely have to do something like this if they want to keep their investors happy,” said Maciej Fita, the SEO director at Brandignity LLC. “It is really going to be about profits now, and even if they could steal 5% to 10% of Google's search market, that could lead to some much better numbers on their balance sheet.”
Flexing Its Social Graph Muscle
None of the experts we spoke with envision Facebook creating a search engine, but instead they expect the company to use all of the data and endorsements for websites that are collected through likes and comments to better personalize search results for an individual user.
Aliza Earnshaw, director of sales and marketing at AboutUs Inc., said Facebook wouldn’t be limited to just pushing recommendations from your friends, but instead would be able to use the data it has from all of its members to figure out what sites people similar to you found useful.
“Of course, not everyone fills out the entire profile - nor even fills it out accurately - but with [905 million] members and counting, it's possible that Facebook will be able to deliver search results that are even more highly relevant than Google results, especially for things that are lifestyle-related,” Earnshaw said.
Is Facebook a Threat to Google?
Of course, to get into search - even if it is to only steal a small percentage of Google users, as Fita suggested - means Facebook is prepping itself for a fight with the other dominant Web firm (plus a secondary battle with Microsoft’s Bing).
“They can't just churn out a new Google the way Google churned out a new Facebook,” Dave Davis, managing director of RedFly Limited, said in an email. “They have one thing Google doesn't have (much of at least): The open graph and individual behavioral data. [There are] 2.7 billion likes and comments per day (according to venturebeat) on websites, data that Facebook can link to individual users and their connections.”
Davis said he expects Facebook to launch search within two years, mainly due to shareholder pressure. He sees it being a truly “peer search” and was even willing to bet that Facebook would call it Peer Search.
“They will do it right. I think they will also phase this in on a vertical-by-vertical stage too,” he said.
Alhan Keser, CMO of digital media agency Blue Fountain Media, said Facebook will have to figure out how to break users’ habits of relying on Google for search.
“They have a long road ahead. Google's algorithm was created overnight,” Keser said. “It took years to develop a system that gave relevant results. They succeeded by better satisfying users.”