2012 has already been an interesting year for the search market, one filled with twists, turns and plenty of drama. It all started with Search Plus Your World, a search engine update Google rolled out back in January. The feature, which uses activity from the company’s social platform Google+, serves up personalized results to users who are logged into the network. Search Plus Your World was instantly met with resistance from individual members of the internet community, including a few of Google’s longtime rivals.
The World vs. Google
A group of social networking forces teamed up to circumvent Google’s Search Plus Your World – or at least gave it a shot. With the aid of engineers from Twitter, MySpace and other companies in the social space, Blake Ross, Facebook’s Director of Product, developed a bookmarklet that overrides the feature. Freely available at FocusOnTheUser.org, the tool has been made open-source so that others can contribute to the project and make improvements. Considering that Google allows users to turn the feature on or off, this was obviously more of a stance to show the search giant that its enemies strongly opposed the feature.
The Focus On The User initiative is certainly interesting, but if Facebook in particular wants to undo the perceived damage of Search Plus Your World, it may have to take a different approach, one that according to rumors has already been initiated. Various outlets are reporting that the social giant is in the process of enhancing its internal search engine. One source, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, revealed that former Google employee Lars Rasmussen is heading up the team of 24 engineers working on the project. Depending on the improvements the team is able to make, a tweaked Facebook search engine could mean some very interesting things for search moving forward.
In the article (which cites information from two unidentified sources, possibly Facebook employees) the purpose of the update is stated to provide a better way for users to sift through the updates, articles, video and other content that shuffles through the network. If you have ever used the search feature on Facebook, you probably agree that this update has been a long time in the making. When compared to the search tools offered by Google, Bing and even Twitter, this one has a lot of catching up to do.
Will a New Threat Emerge?
For now, the overall consensus is that Facebook is merely focused on improving the discovery experience for its users, not necessarily creating a Google competitor. The collective community would likely welcome such an update with open arms if it really makes information easier to find for content hungry users and increases the visibility of content marketers that use the site. With that said, an updated Facebook search engine could end up rocking the foundation of search whether it aims to directly compete with Google or not.
Bing, Yahoo and Google have been working hard to incorporate the irresistible social element into their search products. As the market leader, Google has the best chance of succeeding, but even though Search Plus Your World appears to work almost flawlessly, its biggest problem lies in the fact that Google+ is still lightyears behind Facebook in terms of popularity.
The social component is clearly the part Facebook has down to a science, so its challenge would be enhancing the discovery aspect. There is no guarantee that the company will get it right with this latest attempt, but from the looks of it, Facebook is more serious than ever about improving its search position. This factor alone may be cause enough for Google to be concerned.