The Facebook/Google Rivalry
So, we got a few emails about the posts we ran a little while back with our predictions for the future, wanting to hear more about the merging of social media and online searches. This seems like as good a time as any to go into that in a little more depth, since it is a really interesting idea and illuminates the Facebook/Google rivalry.
The Trouble With Search Engines
One of the key problems with search engines is that it's a purely robotic process. Search engine spiders crawl through the web, looking at keywords, metatags, links, and rich strings and try to deduce from those what the actual content of the page is and how it relates to other pages out there. There's little human intervention in the process, except when something goes totally wrong. (This recent blog post from Google highlights how fiddly the process is.)
If you could find a way to introduce a reliable human element into the search process, in theory, that would mean much better results. That was, in fact, one of Google's original innovations: using inbound links, the social media of the 90s, as one of the ranking factors in their search results. This is what allowed them to leap ahead of Yahoo, Altavista, and all of their other competitors at the time.
So, why not try to take that one step further? The web is full of people expressing their likes and dislikes on every subject from politicians to hairless pet breeds. If you could fuse those, you would create a search engine that delivers results targeted to give each user the results that they personally would want, rather than generic results derived from mathematical formulas.
Google Goes Social
As a matter of fact, that "prediction" we made was based on something Google was already trying. Back in January, they introduced that concept into their search results, allowing users to have them filtered through the Google+ social media network. Someone who had a robust set of Google+ connections would, in theory, get results more closely tailored to their needs.
However, there's one problem: Google+ isn't doing so well. Despite all the hype around its release, it has achieved only moderate success. Reports of its user base vary wildly, but it seems to currently be in the area of 100 million. Compare that to the 850+ million users of Facebook, and that leaves a very wide gulf to cross for Google to make this robust enough to work.
Enter the Facebook...?
This, then, brings up an interesting question that plenty of analysts are pondering: what if Facebook got into the search game? It wouldn't be such a radical step, and Facebook definitely has the social media numbers to make it work. They've also somehow managed to avoid as many privacy-related PR blowups as Google despite, on the whole, collecting far more personal information and generally being more cavalier with it. People seem to just accept that Facebook knows everything about them.
This would put them in a prime position to attempt to dethrone Google by introducing an entirely new way of searching the web, one that relies primarily on social media links rather than search spiders. Plus, with their IPO looming any week now, these are the sorts of things that potential investors would like to know about.
So, keep this in mind as you read our blog this week. We'll be discussing the Facebook IPO in more depth, and their ability to leverage their user base is going to be a key factor in that. Could they become the true new kings of the web? It's certainly possible.
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