Facebook Is Reportedly Fixing Up Its Search Engine

Former Google Engineer Lars Rasmussen brought his search expertise to Facebook in 2010, and he is now leading a team of about two-dozen engineers on a project aimed at improving the social network’s search engine, according to a published report.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported the news from two Facebook sources who cited the company’s pre-initial public offering quiet period in not wanting to be named.

The move by Facebook is not seen as a direct shot at Google, but rather as a way to help users of the social network locate relevant content among status updates and content from other sites that was liked by other users.

Rather, Facebook could be looking at search from an advertising standpoint. Bloomberg Businessweek offered up wineries as an example, saying that with the social network’s current search engine, a search for wineries will bring a hodgepodge of results, including wineries, winery employees, wine-tasting applications, and other unrelated content.

Whereas with an improved search engine, Facebook would be able to refine that same search to zero in on the closest wineries with the most likes.

Bloomberg Businessweek speculated that Facebook could also sell keyword ads, much like Google and Microsoft (with its Bing search engine) already do. Opus Research Senior Analyst Greg Sterling told the magazine:

There’s a huge amount of revenue waiting to be unlocked if they want to explore search-based pay-per-click advertising. They can leverage the data and demographic information they already have.

Rather than going head-to-head with Google on the algorithm side of search, which would be a huge challenge, Facebook will likely exploit its advantage in social data, with Gil Elbaz, chief executive officer of data-crunching startup Factual and co-creator of what became Google AdSense, telling Bloomberg Businessweek, “Over time, this will let them build a powerful structured search engine.”

Rasmussen joined Facebook in 2010, and the magazine unearthed this quote from him in the Sydney Morning Herald shortly thereafter:

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 But that doesn’t mean in any way that search is obsolete or even close to being obsolete.

Facebook would not comment, citing the pre-IPO quiet period.

Speaking of the IPO, speculation about Facebook’s search initiatives heated up when the social network announced its intentions to go public February 1. That week Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture of his desk, in which a MacBook displaying what looked like a Facebook page with a large search box was visible.

Readers: What features would you like to see Facebook incorporate into an improved search engine?

Search icons image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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