Saturday, December 13, 2014

Facebook Won't Beat Google

This past week a few sites published articles expressing the idea that Facebook''s new search (which it purports will search posts) somehow presents a challenge to Google. No less than Time published an article entitled "Facebook Just Took a Huge Shot at Google", proposing that Facebook's new search could not only hurt Google, but even kill Google's social network Google+. An article on the site InvestorPlace, not only puts forth the idea that Facebook's new search could be a threat to Google, but to sites like Yelp and Angie's List as well. This is not the first time that various sites have behaved as if Facebook somehow presented a serious challenge to Google, much less other sites. When Facebook came out with Graph Search in early 2013 there were actually a few articles that behaved as if Graph Search would be a real threat to Google. We all know how that went.

The truth of the matter is that Facebook has never handled searches very well. Those of us who have been on Facebook for quite a while know that there was a time when one could have trouble even locating one's friends on the site, let alone anything else. Facebook's once much vaunted Graph Search was not much of an improvement over the old search. My brother was among those who first got Graph Search (he signed up for it) and, even with his low expectations, he was disappointed. Among his many complaints was that one could not refine searches. Facebook's search has changed since Graph Search first rolled out in March 2013, but at  no point has it improved to the point where it could challenge Google. There is no reason to think it will now.

Of course, even if Facebook's new search proves to be functional and useful, there are some other, very good reasons to think it will not challenge Google. The simple fact is that people use Facebook and Google for different things. Quite simply, Facebook is a social network; Google is a search engine. Let's say that I want to look up the history of the TV show The Avengers. I would go to Google to do that. Or let's say I want to look up restaurants near my home. I would use Google to do that as well. The majority of people I know use Google, or at least some other search engine, to search for nearly everything. They do not use Facebook. And there is a very good reason for that. Facebook's search is pretty much limited to what is on Facebook (and what is posted publicly on Facebook at that). While I doubt Google has access to all of the Web, it has access to a good chunk of it, as do the other search engines. If one wants to find something then, they are better off, well, googling it.

As to the possibility that Facebook's new search could kill off Google+, I don't believe that for a moment. For one thing, it seems to me that the majority of Facebook users have their privacy set so that only their friends can see their posts (I know most of my friends and I do). For example, none of my posts would come up in the results of a search conducted by a total stranger.  While I cannot be absolutely certain, from my experience it seems that the majority of Google+ users post publicly or at least make posts that can be seen by extended circles (basically including followers in one's circles' circles--sort of "friends of friends", if you will). Because of this, then, I suspect any search conducted on Google+ will have more results than the same search conducted on Facebook.

For another thing, even if Facebook's new search is as good as that of Google+, there is much more to a social network than the ability to search posts. People don't just use Google+ because its search is superior to that of Facebook. We use it because it has a better, easier to use interface. We use it because it gives us more control over the posts we see in our stream than Facebook does. We use it because it gives us more control over our own privacy. We use it because our posts on Google+ are more likely to be seen than they would be on Facebook due to FB's filters. We use it because Google is more responsive to what users want than Facebook ever has been. Quite simply, we use it because we believe Google+ is better than Facebook. It would take a lot more than a new search for Facebook to kill Google+, more than Facebook can possibly do.

It seems to me that for a long time there have been those who consistently overestimate what Facebook can do. With every new feature, every new development, they behave as if Facebook will somehow trump Google, Twitter, or whatever other sites they might perceive as rivals to FB.  In the end they are a bit like the boy who cried wolf. They constantly cry "Facebook will win! Facebook will win!" and in the end it never does. Will Facebook's search be better than its old search? I don't know, but I can tell you one thing. It won't be a credible threat to Google. Heck, it won't even be a threat to Bing.

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