Facebook's 'search' not a Google warning shot

While Facebook is definitely on Google's mind as both companies jockey for Web dominance, Facebook's rudimentary search results aren't going to be the threat.

Facebook search results pages
All Facebook noticed that certain search results in Facebook produce external pages that have been "liked" by users, but that does not a search engine make. Screenshot by Tom Krazit/CNET

The use of the "war" metaphor in the tech industry is starting to get a little ridiculous.

The latest to compare incremental feature rollouts to Sherman's March to the Sea was All Facebook, a blog devoted to the huge social-networking site. It noticed that Facebook is now surfacing Web pages in its search results, pointing out that this gives Facebook the potential to harness its huge user base and the use of its Open Graph technology on Web sites to produce external Web pages in search results based on how often those users "liked" those Web pages.

"Now that the search results are officially showing up as Facebook search results, the war has begun," All Facebook said, in declaring the start of Search Wars 3.

As wars go, however, this is more like Facebook throwing a sheep at Google than anything that would get Stanley McChrystal excited. As they stand now, search results ranked by "likes" can't produce nearly the breadth and depth of results produced by companies that actually crawl the Web, such as Google and Facebook investor Microsoft, whose Bing search engine produces actual search results on Facebook search pages.

Quite simply, Facebook's search experience doesn't work very well and is easily gamed, according to an analysis by search marketing expert Marty Weintraub highlighted by Search Engine Land. "The results are so wild that isolating attributes for scoring fan and community page ranking factors is like pouring sweet nectar down a rat hole," Weintraub wrote.

There's no question that the nature of search is changing with the rise of things like "semantic" search technology , or the use of tags and pointers in Web pages to alert search engines to certain types of content. In a sense, Facebook's "like" button on a Web page is a semantic search tool in that it alerts Facebook that a user has deemed a certain Web page of interest, where that page can then be ranked in search results for related queries.

But any "war" between the two companies will be measured in advertising dollars, and marketing types controlling search advertising budgets are not going to see this iteration of Facebook's search results as an opportunity to divert their attention away from Google. If you're spending money to place ads next to search results, you want assurances your ad will appear next to the most relevant results, and Facebook search has a long way to go on the relevance factor.

Display ads are a different story , as Facebook continues to turn itself into a sticky destination site. There's no question that Google is watching Facebook closely as it turns into a Web powerhouse, but it's not exactly fighting a rear-guard action against Facebook's assault on its search stronghold.

Was that enough hackneyed military metaphors for one post?

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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