Would it be surprising to you if a trending headline on all major news outlets proclaimed, “Facebook has overtaken Google as the leading search engine!?” For some this seems far-fetched, especially when you use the search that is currently enabled within Facebook. But that’s not the search I’m talking about, since that search predominately looks mainly to what’s inside of Facebook. The search technology I’m referring to is web search.
Web search is the foundation for Google’s dominance in search technology. But what if web search can readily be created and innovated on top of by Facebook in a way competitors and even Google can’t match. How can Facebook dethrone Google, the king of search? What does it have that Google doesn’t have or can’t buy? Let’s see.
Here are three eye-opening factors that set Facebook on track for online search domination. Remember, you heard it here first.
I. Massive Reach
Facebook has more than 600 million active monthly users. If there’s one thing that tech pundits and general media types have in common is that they love tracking how many active users Facebook has. Currently, that number is up to 600 million monthly users. To put that figure in perspective, that means that the total population of monthly active users on Facebook is almost double all of the United States’ population!
What does this mean for Facebook’s search domination? If Facebook decided to enable web search on its homepage or its user dashboard (on par with Google search – not its current search which mainly searches within Facebook), it would find an instant audience. Think of it this way. How many of your friends and family use Facebook? My mom is on Facebook! If Facebook were to integrate a web search feature neatly into their user interface, people would undoubtedly use it.
Here is an additional kicker, where Google has tried to imitate social networking via Google Buzz, the switching cost from one social network to another is certainly much higher. Telling someone to switch from Facebook to another social networking requires re-uploading photos, getting your favorite apps and games back (if they are even available), re-establishing direct contact with all your buddies and other neat tools you probably use everyday. This is a tougher sell. In essence, it’s no easy task even for a behemoth like Google to imitate a good social network; however, those same switching costs are not associated with search engines… especially if the search results are good and relevant.
II. Talent Wars
Good people don’t come cheap. If there’s one company that’s awesome at bringing in talent from Google it is certainly Facebook. In response, Google increased salaries and even offers hefty retention bonuses (in the millions of dollars on the high end) to keep top talent. But as you dig in to who is being scouted as potential employees you’ll see that the big payouts go to engineers. These engineers are the people who know how to build, say…. a search engine.
How does Talent impact Facebook’s search domination? If Facebook is able to bring in enough key engineers, especially those with experience and talent building world class search technologies, then Facebook can role out a competitive search offering that could at least be on par with Google. But what would happen if these engineers had an additional resource that only Facebook had easy access too that Google doesn’t?
III. Semantic Search
What if when you searched for something online, the search engine already knew your intent or the context of which you were searching for something? What if it could pin point, based on your behavior, personality and even desires the best and most personalized results, relevant to you? Today, Facebook has the ability to tap into semantic search because we are feeding it with every wall post, like, comment, group joined, app used, and every piece of personal information we post.
How does Facebook’s semantic search serve as the key to search domination? When the time is right, Facebook could launch the world’s most personalized search engine tailored to our individual intent. This is something that Google and other search engines don’t have direct access too.
For instance, if a Realtor or a coffee shop owner typed in ‘online marketing’ on Google, it would select results based on the number of links received around that keyword and would look to other factors, aggregated across a large audience in order to deliver what it deems as relevant results. Thus, the Realtor and the coffee shop owner would likely get the same results. Facebook on the other hand would be able to deliver the Realtor online marketing advice geared toward Realtors, such as how to get leads for my listing, and likewise would be able to do the same for the coffee shop owner who would likely get results for selling their branded coffee online or get more foot traffic through the door. The difference is that because Facebook has such a large pool to draw from across numerous long-tail segments it has the ability to me more specific and relevant in it’s search processing.
While it may not be today, and so long as they play their cards right, Facebook is poised to overtake Google as the leading search engine. Facebook has the reach, talent, and most importantly lots and lots of our data to make it into the World’s most innovative and useful search engine. If they setup the right team and build out a personalized search experience utilizing our data and set that as something we see on their homepage or the dashboard we interact with everyday, Facebook will be a force to be reckoned with in the search space. The funny thing is, we’ll keep on powering it.