Facebook made 1 billion in profit from their advertising program. But there’s another untapped source for them to exploit. Facebook has a lot to gain from developing their own search engine and monetizing it with an AdWords-like self serving platform.
If you want to find something on Facebook then you probably need a human who knows where it is and walks you through. In many cases you can’t find specific page or person using just search.
Another annoying feature is that if you know that you posted something around three months ago then it is almost impossible to find. You can scroll through your endless list of your status updates but there’s a pretty good chance you will not find what you are looking for. Or your computer will attempt suicide facing the infinite scroll of the Timeline.
Now, if Facebook decides to fix its internal search engine then that would be great for users. But the real opportunity lies in creating a full blown search engine to rival Google.
Facebook internal search
Facebook’s search doesn’t really work. The problem is similar to Google that if you search for something in general like Ferrari you will get a lot of answers. However if you look for a specific item it is very hard to find if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. Let’s see what kinds of searches suck:
My old stuff: I was looking for a video I posted about 6 months ago. No luck with that. Facebook should have a lot of metadata related to this video in their database. Who watched it and what are their interests, what are the keywords in comments, is this video shared on other accounts what are the topics there, etc. Even without indexing the web content Facebook should have a pretty good idea what am I looking for. SO, what the hell is this?
Apps: when looking for Facebook applications you will get an endless list of similar results that seem to be ordered in a logical way but that logic has yet to be discovered by users.
Searches for pages, users, events, etc. have all their own problems. But another issue is that search results in the “autocomplete” are different from the results on the search page. Not a little different totally f***** up! Here's an example.
Facebook has a huge advantage by knowing what people are talking about and how they relate to each other. Using that to augment the search results will add a layer of relevance that is currently unavailable to Google. (At least on the same scale as Facebook).
Spotting trending topics globally and in a smaller communities will help to refine search results. Likes by you and friends give insight into your interest so that Facebook will return correct results to you for ambiguous query like “strings”. They should know if you are looking for the building blocks of the Universe or piece of clothing?
Using social graph, edgerank, sharing data, friends’ activities, will give Facebook information that is not obvious to existing search engines that derive most of their results from analyzing the links between pages. Beside webpages there are images and videos that all get shared on Facebook and this adds a layer of metadata about the pieces of media. Same applies to maps and events.
I understand that to make it work means countless hours of intellectual effort and programming but the result would be a real game changer. Google has been developing its search step by step but that would be a revolution.
There’s a huge amount of money in search advertising. Google makes about 30 billion dollars from search ads in a year. And that trend points up! If Facebook would get even a small portion of that business they would grow their income many times over.
Of course, it’s no clear that people would start using Facebook search instead of Google. We have seen in the case of Yahoo! that convenience search will not get people to use it if the offerings are similar.
However Facebook could integrate search within its user interface in a way that would make using it natural part of social networking experience. When that happens Google will be in trouble.
Combining all that with an AdSense-like program for other websites that i described in an earlier post would set the stage for an epic battle between two tech giants.
Let us know in the comments what do you think about Facebook search and its future potential.