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Facebook COO: Search to harness the 'wisdom of friends'

The social network's Sheryl Sandberg talks search, e-commerce, ads and analytics with CNBC this morning.

Screenshot by Donna Tam/CNET

While Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wouldn't affirm whether or not Facebook could take on Google in the search arena, it's clear the social-networking giant thinks there's an untapped revenue stream in a social search product.

"I think people are surprised how much search is done on Facebook, you know, every day there's an enormous percentage of search. There's also a promise in the market that search could become more social that we don't think this has been met," she told CNBC this morning. "When you're looking for information, the question is who do you want it from. Do you want it from the wisdom of crowds or the wisdom of friends? Our answer to the information that's most relevant for users -- it's really about friends... if I'm looking for a restaurant to go to in New York this week, I'd rather get a recommendation from a friend."

Sandberg's description of a future Facebook search product echoed remarks made last month from her boss, Mark Zuckerberg. The CEO, who was interviewed at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, said that he has a team working on search and that "Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer a lot of questions people have."

Some search products, like Microsoft's Bing (which currently powers Facebook's search) and Google+, are already dabbling in social search, but Facebook is in a unique position -- it can harvest data from its more than 950 million members to create recommendations.

When asked about competing directly with Google, Sandberg said she wouldn't comment on product launches specifically. While Google is the leader in traditional search, Facebook may create a search product that cuts into the business of more companies -- like Yelp or Foursquare -- particularly if it focuses on recommendations.

In addition to search, Sandberg talked about other ways Facebook can make money besides advertising, and the social network is thinking total domination, as usual.

"We think the potential on Facebook for almost anything is big because of our sheer size and scale and because of what users are doing and how engaged they are on the site," Sandberg said.

Sandberg said the company is exploring the creation of more premium services for businesses like analytics or customer service -- noting that businesses are asking for more of these services from Facebook -- and that last's weeks launch of the Facebook Gifts e-commerce service is the just the "beginnings of commerce on Facebook."

It sounds like a "Want" button for products is in Facebook's future. When asked, Sandberg did not dismiss the idea, saying, "there is the ability to build all different open graph implementations and there are people working on that."