A New Opportunity for Facebook? Or Google’s Worst Nightmare?

If Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the future can be implemented, web surfers will soon have a new way to search. Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) Co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned during an interview at San Francisco’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Tuesday, the company’s plans to unveil a social search engine that could pose a threat to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).

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Facebook already has most of the components needed to challenge the search giant. At yesterday’s conference, Zuckerberg said the social network fields one billion search queries a day, “and we’re basically not even trying.” One billion queries is 20 times the amount Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing receives and a third the amount of Google’s search queries. Volume is not the only area in which Facebook’s social search engine could be competitive. Its success would be in the search engine’s ability to compile results from socially-relevant information supplied by its users.  And Facebook has a wealth of user data from its almost one billion users and more than five million daily status updates.

“Search engines are really evolving towards giving you a set of answers… like, I have a specific question, answer this question for me,” Zuckerberg said. “And when you think about it from that perspective, Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer a lot of the questions that people have.”

With Facebook’s store of user information, its social search engine will be able to provide much different answers those Google is currently able: the answer to specific questions. The example given by Zuckerberg was, “What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York, and liked?” Google has not been programmed to return search results to such queries.  Instead, Google would show you what restaurants are within a few miles to your location and provide the restaurant’s reviews from Yelp (NYSE:YELP) or its recently purchased reviewer Zagat. It will not tell you what you what your friends liked, unless they happen to use Google+.   Google’s social network was meant to supply socially-relevant data for target advertising and expanded search results, yet its “Search Plus Your World” feature primarily shows content from Google’s network.

Google, like Facebook, is moving away from keywords and links, in favor of being able to answer a fully stated question.  But the company, who has been adding expert information from sources like Wikipedia and Zagat, is a few steps away from matching what Facebook hints it will be able to do with its search engine.  It has no such wealth of socially-relevant data, and while the ultimate value of peer recommendations may be questionable, this could another opportunity for Facebook to reinvent the social age.

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