A former Google engineer is leading a team of two dozen Facebook engineers dedicated to creating an improved Facebook search engine that will make it easier for users to more easily find shared or liked articles, videos, and status updates.
This doesn’t sound like Facebook’s attempt to become a traditional information retrieval type of web search engine like Google or Bing, which both crawl and show results for the entire web based on hundreds or thousands of signals and ranking factors. Rather, it seems like this is more a case of Facebook trying to provide better search results within the social network’s walls based on its big data – relationships, locations, Likes, subscriptions, images, and so on. Besides, Facebook just doesn't have the engineers on the payroll to create a full-on Google competitor.
In February, Facebook searches numbered 336 million, trailing all of the “big five” search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, AOL), while sites like eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon saw more search queries than Facebook, according to comScore data, despite Facebook having more than 800 million users. Facebook search currently allows you to filter searches by people, pages, places, groups, apps, events, music, web results, posts by friends, public posts, and posts in groups.
Bing remains Facebook’s provider of web search results. Since 2010, Bing has personalized its search results by incorporating Facebook Like data into Bing’s algorithm.
But perhaps this could be a step toward a future social search engine that Facebook could monetize with pay-per-click ads and become a player in what is forecast to be a $19+ billion industry this year. Though Google and Facebook both have different ad models, data suggests that social ads work for both companies, improving ad recall and click-through rates.
The Facebook search engine project is headed by Lars Rasmussen, who jumped from Google to Facebook in 2010. Of social and search, Rasmussen – who helped create Google Maps and the failed Google Wave project – said at the time:
"I do think that social is a significantly less explored area still than search and it is sort of the frontier of technology in many ways. But that doesn't mean in any way that search is obsolete or even close to being obsolete. We are all going to be using search many, many times a day every day of our lives, forever."
In the past year, Google has attempted to get its hands on more valuable user data by introducing +1 button and Google+, in addition to adding personalized searches with Search Plus Your World.