Facebook working on Search, Google still MIA on Social

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I’ve written several times before about the ongoing merger of Search and Social and I expect it’s something I’ll write on a good deal more over time because I think it’s one of the biggest industry changes we’re facing and has the potential to fundamentally change the way people find information online.  Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg told the world I was right.  Not that he mentioned me or anything, I would be incredibly surprised if he even knows I exist, but in his first post-IPO interview he talked at length about Facebook’s plans for Search.

Zuckerberg said that Facebook search receives over 1 billion queries a day, “without even trying”. He shared that he is very intrigued with what the company can do with search and went on to explain how it is different from other search engines. He says that he thinks that Internet search is evolving from finding keywords to being used to answer specific questions.

He believes that Facebook is in a unique position when it comes to answering some of these questions. For example, maybe in the future, you can search for what sushi restaurants your friends have eaten at in the last six months and which ones they liked. He says that Facebook offers a much more personal way to search as it can use social context in a way that current search engines cannot.

“At some point we’ll do it,” he said, mentioning that there is already a team working on search.

– from InsideFacebook.com

In other words, Zuck is planning to directly challenge Google, Yelp, and even his buddies over at Bing head on.  And he’s going to do it using the Open Graph.

The Graph is one of those transformative technologies that most people seem to have failed to comprehend up to this point.  If Facebook is successful, it has the potential to change the entire nature of the internet by building an immense crowd-sourced relational database of who likes what and making that data viewable to everyone.  For online merchants this has obvious benefits, frictionless sharing through the graph is an incredibly powerful way to drive traffic and for end users to see what their peers are interested in and engaged with.  As long as user privacy is respected and people have an easy way to opt out, this benefits everyone.  Well, everyone except Facebook’s competitors.

As I wrote in a previous article, the real conflict between Facebook and Google is for control of traffic – that critical gate keeper role  that determines who will go where.  As Facebook ramps up their search efforts and takes advantage of the exponential growth of their Social Graph they’ll be able to offer a social-optimized search experience that will be very very hard for Google to compete with.  Google+ could have been the answer- and by all rights should have been – but for whatever reason Google has failed to make the investments into their social platform that would have been needed to make it really thrive.  They have no social graph, no developer tools to speak of, very shallow integration options, and a service that is popular with one small demographic but has nowhere near the reach that it should have had.  I don’t expect Google to die any time in the foreseeable future, but I know for a fact they’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity for growth.  Maybe it’s time they stopped trying to convince people to let computers drive their cars and focussed back on what’s supposed to be their core competency – helping make the web a better place by making it easy for people to find the information they’re searching for.

As for Facebook, say what you like but they are nothing if not determined.  I’m looking forward to seeing what this dedicated Search team of theirs comes up with.