Yesterday we learned that Facebook has hired an ex-Google engineer and tasked him and two dozen other engineers with improving Facebook Search.Now Techmeme is full of people saying that Facebook is arming up to go after Google.
The truth is that Facebook is fighting a massive war with Google and that search could be a key battlefield.
But this doesn’t mean Facebook is betting any kind of resources on becoming your favourite Web search engine any time soon.
This misconception is driving Business Insider Intelligence analyst Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry a little nuts, so we reached him on AIM to discuss Facebook’s search plans.
Pascal: People are whipping themselves into a frenzy because Zuck has hired a googler to do a “search” team. Here’s my take.
1. It’s almost certain that the team is going to work on fixing *internal* Facebook search, which sucks, not build a competing search engine. Facebook is incredibly understaffed, it has plenty of features that suck that it can’t address because it doesn’t have enough people, but over time it will fix them. Search is one, mobile is another…
2. For all the hype around using “social stuff” to improve search, the evidence thus far suggests that it’s not a good signal. Google has said so. Microsoft has said so. No one’s done anything interesting in that area. Danny Sullivan has a great post about this.
Carlson: Well, Google’s company line has changed. I met with some Googlers recently, and they now truly believe social data makes search links more clickable. I don’t think it necessarily improves algorithm, but as a “this link is good” verification system having a friend +1 a link (or an ad!) goes a long way toward getting that link more clicked. Remember, when a Facebook user sees a brand ad that a friend has “liked” that user is 300% more likely to recall that brand later. There’s no reason that warm fuzzy feeling won’t work for search, too.
Gobry: Right. But it doesn’t make the actual algorithm better. Which is what people are talking about.
Carlson: Yeah. Super goofy.
Carlson: Also, I agree that FB is not competing with Google over classic web search market share. But I do believe they are going to put Web content into buckets (which is all search results pages are; just many of them) and then sell ads against it.
Gobry: I don’t know what you mean by “put web content into buckets.”
Carlson: You’re on your news feed. You see tabs: sports, finance, shopping. You click on them and your news feed is filtered by topic. And it’s not necessarily just stuff shared by your friends.
Gobry: Man, Yahoo truly is screwed.
Carlson: Yes indeed.
Carlson: My final thought would be that Facebook, given its very small revenues, would be stupid not to explore the idea of web search, even if it’s just Bing.
Gobry: They already show Bing results at the bottom of their searches. No one uses it.
Carlson: It’s true, but if they can re-jigger that so they do…it’s worth trying.
Gobry: I agree they’d be smarter to do an AOL-type deal where they outsource search to Microsoft for a fee. And yeah, maybe there’s some skunk-works team working on ideas around search. I’m sorry, “search.”
I get to have conversations like this with Pascal all the time. You can too if you sign up for BI Intelligence >>
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