THE BLOG
05/09/2013 05:42 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Once Again, Facebook Is Supposedly the Latest 'Google Killer'

AP

As is traditional in tech reporting, the requisite "killer" proclamations have surfaced to identify Facebook's recent move into the $40 billion search market. So once again, Facebook is the latest Google Killer.

For those unfamiliar, Facebook's Graph Search will integrate search deeper into the social network. Compared to Google's ranking algorithm that determines relevance based on keyword and page prominence, Facebook will use social data (likes, etc.) to rank search results.

This is interesting but it's no Google killer. First, search is a game won on a combination of relevance and volume. Graph Search will have the relevance -- and a powerful form of relevance governed by the sentiments of your friends. But it doesn't yet have the volume.

Graph Search's index of content will mostly operate within Facebook itself for now (see below). On that measure, it won't come close to Google's massive index from which to mine answers to your query on the Franco-Prussian War or the best flat screen TV.

For example, local reviews and recommendations are often used as an example of where Graph Search will shine. The idea is if you're looking for a good place to eat while visiting San Francisco, search on Facebook to see where your friends have eaten and liked.

But will my 765 friends contain the probability that enough people have experienced and recommended the random thing I'm searching for? 30 trillion pages in Google's index will unearth a more statistically significant sentiment on San Francisco gastropubs.

Similarly, there's an argument in local search that questions the reliability of 1500 reviews on a Yelp listing, in favor of 4 or 5 recommendations from trusted friends. I disagree because of one key factor: I'm friends with people for reasons other than a shared taste in food.

Put another way, the social connections that bind us don't correlate to food taste or flat screen TV quality. Those are things for which sample size trumps personal connections in revealing product quality. There are exceptions where trust is inherent (i.e. child care).

Facebook could solve this volume challenge in its partnership with Bing. This will seek to combine content from the broader web with its walled-in social data for a competitive search index. But even if it's able to play the volume game, another challenge looms: branding.

Though it's seen some evidence of utilitarian appeal, I'm not convinced that Facebook can brand itself as a go-to place for immediate needs. Currently it's not top of mind for finding an owner's manual PDF for my discontinued TV, or a locksmith or everything in-between.

Facebook's battle will be in convincing the world to think of it as a search utility -- a far cry from its current DNA. The other question that arises isn't "how?" but "should?". Should Facebook taint its fun persona with one that's all about finding a good plumber?

And that's how money is made in search, which reminds me of a Henry Blodget quote that sums it up nicely: "Google is the best advertising product in the history of the world... because it's like advertising at a store. Facebook, meanwhile, is like advertising at a party."

Speaking of Google, look the situation in reverse. Google moved into new territory with Google+. It hasn't taken significant share from Facebook, which is telling that prominence, brand equity and technical chops in one area don't necessarily translate to another.

Despite lots of these factors, Facebook's "move fast and break things" philosophy deserves some respect and optimism for new areas it enters. The company might create a monster out of Graph Search, but the pieces aren't yet in place to start calling winners.

Remember that when reading about Facebook killing Google, or Foursquare killing Yelp, or anyone killing Apple. There's always more to those link bait headlines. I suppose tech media isn't immune to longstanding publishing practice: In this case, "If it bleeds, it leads."