Searching The Social Network

Searching The Social Network
Written by:
Michael Harris
24th September 2012

On 11 September Facebook’s co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his first public appearance since the company’s shaky IPO in May, reported The Times next day. Mr. Zuckerberg was at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, where he discussed some of the hottest topics surrounding his company. The high point of his speech came when he expressed his view on web search and the possibility of adding such functionality to the world’s largest social network.

Said Zuckerberg, “Search is interesting”, adding that it represented “a big opportunity … we need to go do that”.
This statement can perhaps be considered, at least to some extent, as official confirmation that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) plans to jump into Google’s territory at some time in the future. Industry rumours, around for some time now, continue to circulate to the effect that Facebook is developing its own web engine to compete with Google. The speculation increased further after the announcement of the company’s IPO, spurred by a picture of Zuckerberg’s desk which, some believed, showed a vastly improved version of Facebook Search. Prior to his appearance in San Francisco, there hadn’t been any official Facebook confirmation of those rumours but now it seems that the implementation of web search in Facebook has been – and remains – on the table.

!m[](/uploads/story/445/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)Many experts and industry analysts, not to mention consumers, have been sceptical about the eventual success of such a move. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), sceptics say, has failed in its efforts to emulate Facebook’s business model with Google+, so why should the social media giant be any more successful in an area – web search – where Google is king? While having 150 million active users can hardly be called a complete failure, it’s clear that Google+ didn’t generate the traction it had hoped to achieve. And the same might very well happen with Facebook’s attempts to compete with Google in search engines.

Having said that, there are a few factors that may augur a different outcome here. In social networking there are huge perquisites for establishing natural monopolies, because social networks are essentially a community-driven service. An established service with an enormous community, such as Facebook, is bound to have an almost insuperable lead over a new, unpopulated pretender. By contrast, search engines aren’t community driven, so Google’s advantage in that space is, though enormous, not necessarily overwhelming.

Mr. Zuckerberg also pointed to the fact that the social network is uniquely positioned to provide users with information about businesses which have proven popular amongst their friends. Apparently Facebook also has the muscle to handle a search engine. Zuckerberg noted that the social network processes a billion queries a day “and we’re not even trying.”

It’s also worth keeping in mind that Facebook is now, according to Alexa.com, the most visited site in the world, having taken first spot from Google.
The potential integration of an advanced search engine in Facebook could have an immensely positive impact on the company, boosting advertising and revenues and, ultimately, its stock price. The social media giant has already hinted – earlier this year – that it intends to challenge Google AdWords and in June ads from the social network started appearing on Zynga.com (NASDAQ:ZNGA). In a statement to VentureBeat on point, Facebook commented: “People may now see ads and sponsored stories from Facebook on Zynga.com.”
Perhaps an indication that the company has plans to expand its marketing reach in a network beyond facebook.com in the same way as Google ad words appear on many websites? Adding a web search to the equation would mean that Facebook is ready to take on Google at its own game.

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