The Next Step? Facebook Wants To Take On Google in the Search Engine Business

Pop quiz, hotshot: In 2004, you started the hottest company on the planet and everybody said you would be a mega-billionaire if you just kept doing what you were doing. Fast forward to 2012: Your current business model for making money stinks, and Wall Street knows it. What do you do? If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, you start diversifying in a hurry.

Zuckerberg recently announced during an interview at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference that Facebook would begin a new process of optimizing their search engine (OSE?). Termed “friend mining” by CBS News Online, the process would create a Facebook search engine that feeds off its wealth of personal information. Though a variation of a Facebook search engine already exists, it is impractical and more geared towards searching specifically for people instead of answers. The Facebook search engine would change that. Says Zuckerberg: “Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer a lot of questions people have.”

The way Zuckerberg framed the upcoming search engine, you would essentially be able to ask Facebook, via its search bar, “Where should I go for good sushi?” and a list of restaurants your friends have ‘liked’ in the last six months will come up. Currently, typing that question into Facebook brings up a list of pages explaining what sushi is, hardly the answer you are seeking. Zuckerberg hopes that dipping further into the search engine market will be seen as a potential antidote to its poisonous stock prices, which took yet another nasty plunge today.

Facebook, which has not yet set a release date for this rejiggered search engine, is not currently seen as a “search engine company” though they point out that they deal with 800 million queries a day (mostly regarding people looking for friends). As of September 21, the company is now tracking all search activity of any kind within its site, a crucial component for its latest foray into the $18 billion U.S. search market.

While users do have the current option of searching the outside Web from within Facebook as part of a partnership with Microsoft Bing, the Bing search bar is small and buried down on the page. Bing, on the other hand, integrates your fellow Facebook users’ “likes” into its search results, but Zuckerberg would ultimately prefer that you didn’t have to leave Facebook to get such information. If Facebook wants to see returns like the $2.79 billion search giant Google (66.4% of the “Search” market) brought home in the last quarter, it’s going to have to strike out on its own. Or at the very least, they need to Google a way to stop their hemorrhaging stock prices.

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