Facebook Shaping Secret Social Search Engine

Facebook is reportedly developing an improved social search engine as it gears up for its forthcoming IPO

Is Facebook secretly developing a social search engine? This is the big question swirling around the ether after images were reportedly spotted on Mark Zuckerberg’s laptop.

The story broke after Bloomberg’s Businessweek, citing two unnamed source close to the project, said that the social networking giant has two dozen Facebook engineers, led by a former Google engineer named Lars Rasmussen, working on improving Facebook’s search engine.

Search Engine Work

According to the sources, the goal of the engineers is “to help users better sift through the volume of content that members create on the site, such as status updates, and the articles, videos, and other information across the Web that people ‘like’ using Facebook’s omnipresent thumbs-up button”.

This comes after Mark Zuckerberg reportedly loaded a picture to his Facebook profile of his desk. The image apparently displayed a MacBook laptop, and on its screen was a blurry image of a Facebook page. At the top of the screen was what appeared to be an unusually elongated white box. Web pundits have since speculated the image showed a prototype of a new Facebook search engine.

At the moment, the typical Facebook page displays a modest sized search box at the top of the screen. It is fair to say that the current search option on Facebook has until now not been a top priority for the company. Facebook’s search engine is reportedly powered by Microsoft’s Bing.

Indeed, many are pointing to the fact that Facebook has done little to improve or monetise its search engine. At the moment, it is mostly used by Facebook users to locate other users, brand names, or other more generic material.

Facebook’s lack of emphasis on search is highlighted by ComScore’s recent research, which revealed for example that in February 2012 Google of course dominated search with an estimated 17.6bn searches in the month, compared to Facebook’s paltry 336m searches.

But Facebook is gearing up for one of the biggest IPOs of recent times, reportedly in May. It is looking to raise $5 billion (£3.1bn), which should give the company a market valuation around  $100 billion (£64 billion).

New Revenue Streams

Facebook is therefore seeking new ways to create revenue streams, which could see adverts  appearing in users newsfeeds for example. If it were to improve its search engine capabilities, it could open up the $15 billion (£9.4bn) search advertising market to the company.

Of course this would take it more into Google’s home territory, especially after Google decided to move into Facebook’s territory with the launch of Google+ last summer.

Businessweek speculated that Facebook could follow the lead of Google and Microsoft and start selling relevant – and profitable – keyword ads alongside results, but it is unlikely to go toe-to-toe with Google for algorithmic supremacy.

According to Businessweek, a Facebook spokesman declined to comment on what Rasmussen is working on.

Google meanwhile is not getting complacent about its search engine domination. It is reportedly overhauling its search engine to provide more direct answers to specific user queries, rather than just use its tried and tested formula of showing appropriate Web links to a search query.

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