Facebook May Be Entering The Search Game For Real

One of the biggest frustrations of sourcers has to be the walled garden that is Facebook. While its people search capability being called modest may be a bit too polite, its general search capability is downright atrocious. If you haven’t given it a try lately, go ahead and remind yourself. Unless you’re searching for a brand name, celebrity or a person in your network, good luck. Even its integration with Bing is less than great.

That may all be changing soon. The most important question remains: will we get a better look inside that walled garden?

Social becoming more search friendly

As Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported last week, Facebook is making a real push for search within their network:

Searching the social network could get a lot better in the near future. About two dozen Facebook engineers, led by a former Google engineer named Lars Rasmussen, are working on an improved search engine, say two people familiar with the project who did not want to be named because the company is in a quiet period ahead of its IPO. The goal, they say, is to help users better sift through the volume of content that members create on the site, such as status updates, and the articles, videos, and other information across the Web that people “like” using Facebook’s omnipresent thumbs-up button.

The reason for Facebook making this move is pretty simple: advertising revenue from search. And with a big IPO on the horizon, nothing would make would-be investors happier than to see a diversification of revenue sources.

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There’s a small problem though: Facebook is a social network, not a search engine.

One or the other (not both)

This image on Bloomberg BusinessWeek says it all. Facebook gets less searches than any major search engine and even sites like eBay, Craigslist and Amazon had more searches last month than Facebook. That being said, it has huge potential. A proper integration of content, with the associated meta data and privacy controls in place, could be a real game changer for those who are looking for that one name. The demographic and social graph data alone could help differentiate its results from all of the others.

I can imagine the temptation for Facebook is centered around making the search platform cute or novel rather than useful for their users. That would be a big lost opportunity. Google’s entrances into the social arena shouldn’t be ignored either: it is extremely difficult to go from search centered to more social centered. Facebook is trying to reverse that, hopefully with a little better luck.

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