Facebook has been increasingly compared to Google of late, and the social network's acquisition of FriendFeed yesterday might make some large strides toward getting its functionality closer to that of the search giant. FriendFeed may not have the audience or cache that Twitter has right now, but it has something else that Facebook values: search functionality.
Twitter's popularity has escalated as FriendFeed has stagnated, but the company offers more than just executive programming talent to bring to the Facebook team. If Facebook expects to be the dominant player in the social media space (and it does), it's going to need to make itself an important aggregation tool. And FriendFeed can help with that.
Facebook paid an estimated $50 million for the company, in a combination cash and stock offer. The social network clearly isn't paying for FriendFeed's user base. The company had only 989,000 unique users in June, compared to Facebook's 340 million, according to comScore.
But FriendFeed could help Facebook go a long way towards something very profitable: a functional social media search engine. And search is something Facebook has spent a lot of time thinking about.
This week, after testing on a small group of users, Facebook went public with its new live search feature. According to Facebook, the new search will crawl 30 days of news feed activity – status updates, photos, links, videos and notes - from Facebook profiles within users' networks. But it will also crawl public profiles and status updates, which could become very useful information in the near future.
As it stands, no one has come forward with a good product to search the social web. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all making moves toward getting that info, but haven't gotten even close to producing comprehensive social search results. Twitter made some progress when it purchased search engine Summize, but that only looks back through the archives a few days. And it only searches Twitter. FriendFeed aggregates user data across varied social media tools.
Brands, journalists and marketers (among others) could find useful social media search data very valuable. According to the Wall Street Journal:
"The improved search products could get people spending more time on the site and give advertisers more ways to target those users. Google has made billions off matching advertisers to potential customers based on the intentions users express in a search box. Facebook, which has yet to announce any new ad products around the new search feature, wants a piece of that pie too."
If Facebook can make itself the default social search engine, it could have a very powerful monetization tool on its hands. And FriendFeed can help with that. Perhaps not alone, but if Facebook builds on the tools the company has built and gets more people to think of it as a social media aggregation service, it could get pretty far toward stealing Twitter's thunder — and shaking Google's search dominance.
There are a lot of things FriendFeed is not. But as more people use varied social media data, aggregators will become more important. And if FriendFeed helps Facebook position itself as a default aggregator — with search to boot — that will be worth a lot of money.
David Berkowitz in AdAge today cites Edelman Digital's Steve Rubel to make this point:
"Social contextual search addresses Google's Achilles' heel: superfluous content. When users scour the web, they can't easily separate content they trust (i.e., content that has been created by their friends) from everything else. ... However, if you can just search what your friends think and prioritize it over everything else, you have a very powerful recommendation engine."