Is Facebook's Social Search Engine a Google Killer?

When Facebook launched its Open Graph protocol in April, blanketing the web with “like” and “recommend” buttons, it seemed obvious that one of the company’s goals was to use the resulting behavioral data to power a social search engine — one based on likes instead of links. That process is now well under way, as a report at AllFacebook notes. The company has confirmed that all web pages that use the network’s open graph plugins show up in the social network’s search results in the same way that traditional Facebook pages do, as described by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his keynote at the F8 conference.

Facebook hasn’t said exactly how many websites have implemented the Open Graph API and plugins since the new platform launched (a week after the launch it said there were 50,000), but the protocol was an extension of the company’s existing Facebook Connect service, which enabled publishers to integrate features from the site into their pages, including allowing users to log in with their Facebook credentials. According to the company, more than a million websites — including some highly trafficked sites such as The Huffington Post — have integrated its features, and 150 million of the network’s more than 400 million users “engage with Facebook” in some way through external sites every month. So will Facebook’s social search engine be a Google killer?

The network’s move to harness the power of its Open Graph protocol is clearly a shot across Google’s bow, but it’s not clear whether the power of the “like” is equivalent to or greater than the power of the link. As Liz noted in a GigaOM Pro report (subscription required), knowing what our friends or Facebook users in general have recommended is useful in some cases — when looking for a hotel or restaurant, for example — but might be less useful in other cases. There’s no question, however, that the Open Graph data Facebook is collecting could become a real alternative to a simple Google search for some users. Being able to search for recommendations from close to half a billion users could be very powerful.

Meanwhile, the search giant hasn’t made much progress in incorporating social elements into its own search engine, apart from integrating Twitter results — although since Facebook’s Open Graph protocol is theoretically an open standard, there is the potential for Google to use that to pull in the network’s results in the same way it uses Twitter’s API (social search engine OneRiot recently added Facebook “like” data to its search in this way). Microsoft’s Bing will likely have a leg up in that department, however, because it runs the Facebook search engine, under the terms of a deal signed in 2008. Facebook search grew by 48 percent in March compared to the previous month, according to comScore rankings. That gave the network a relatively puny 2.7 percent share of the U.S. search business, but still put it ahead of AOL.

In the video below, Facebook’s chief technology officer Bret Taylor tells Liz Gannes about what he wants to focus on for the future — a list that includes search:


Related content from GigaOM Pro: Why Google Should Fear the Social Web

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Ruurmo

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