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Summary:

Could Facebook’s social search patent mean that it is building an alternative to Google? If so, the social media giant will have to set itself apart in a field already crowded with big players and some innovative upstarts.

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Last week, commentators noticed that Facebook was awarded a patent that covered essential elements of social search. Patents don’t always predict products, but this one was acquired by Facebook when it purchased intellectual property from Friendster. Does the patent mean Facebook is building an alternative to Google? Possibly.

The big search engines like Google and Bing are already incorporating social signals into their ranking schemes, and into how their results are presented to users. Google is the big  social search target, with over $25 billion in search advertising revenue. Google both integrates and segregates social technologies. Personalized social search, which calls out content shared or posted by a user’s friends, is buried under More Search Tools on Google’s results page. It puts real-time search — licensed Twitter results and what public Facebook content it can crawl — a little higher on the page, and sprinkles in a few real-time results on its main results pane.

Microsoft’s Bing, which isn’t really gaining ground on Google yet, has partnered with Facebook to gain more access to Facebook data like friends, status updates and Likes. Bing results feature Facebook and other social content a little more prominently than Google’s do, but Bing also offers a separate social content-only search function.

Other social search players include Topsy, which searches real-time content and keeps a deeper archive of tweets than Twitter does, and blekko, which uses human editors to create authoritative indices of results, partly by blocking what they determine low-quality sites. WOWD was building a social search engine, now concentrates on personalized feed filters. OneRiot ceded its real-time search to Topsy while it attempts to build an ad network.

To read more about what Facebook might do to set itself apart from the pack, see my latest weekly update at GigaOM Pro.

Image courtesy of flickr user nathanmac87

  1. Looks like the folks who want to convert MySpace.com into the first user-owned and managed social network are willing to let Facebook keep their social search patent. These folks just want their right to privacy, the profile data and their “one identity” back, as proclaimed by Mark Zuckerberg. They think that $10 is a low price to own their piece of the web.

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