Facebook should stay out of web search business


Ron MillerFacebook has close to a billion users, but just try and find one of them, even somebody you are certain is there, and it's often impossible to do so.

In a word, Facebook's current search tool is awful.

That could be why, as BusinessWeek recently reported, Facebook hired former Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Engineer Lars Rassumsen to lead a search tool development team. The recent IPO has left Facebook flush with cash and certainly capable of making an investment in search.

Does this mean Facebook is going after Google? Doubtful, especially because as Greg Sterling points out on Search Engine Land, the current deal with Microsoft and Bing makes it a bit sticky for Facebook to make a go of commercial search on its own--but it does make one pause.

Facebook has two things going for it: It already understands keyword-driven advertising and it has deep pockets.

And when you think about it, Google decided to go in the social networking game. Why shouldn't Facebook reciprocate trying search?

Steve Jobs was reportedly ripping mad upon hearing about Google launching Android and reportedly said something along the lines of (and I paraphrase), 'we didn't go after search, they went after cell phones.'

Now Zuckerberg, who appears a lot mellower than Jobs, probably feels the same way.

But should Facebook do any more than improve its internal search?

I don't think so. Google is in complete control of the Search market holding steady at around 67 percent market share month after month, year after year. Microsoft produced a very nice search engine when it created Bing, yet it hasn't been able to even put a dent in Google's market dominance.

If there is a mature market with happy users and no real missing features, how do you attack that and should you try?

I think it would be a mistake for Facebook to go this route. Definitely make it easier for me to find content I know I posted at some point. Make it less complicated to find my friends. Offer a knock-out people search tool, but don't give me with another web search tool I don't need.

Google offers that. It won. Don't bother.

Facebook surely has a lot of dough, but that doesn't mean it should throw good money after bad. Sure, search is lucrative, but Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFThas spent billions on Bing with very little to show for it.

A partnership with Google would actually make much more sense than a substantial investment in trying to build its own search engine, but now that Facebook and Google are rivals, it's probably not going to happen.

Regardless, Facebook should probably stick to what it does best while learning from history, rather than being doomed to repeat it. - Ron