It’s no coincidence that Facebook launched a new real-time search engine on the same day that it bought FriendFeed and Google announced a new infrastructure project aimed at speeding up its indexing time. Make no mistake about it: people that know search believe that there’s gold in real-time and social data, and Facebook’s blockbuster acquisition of FriendFeed (FriendFeed) was a lob squarely across Google’s bow.
Facebook has always been in a position to take a lead in real-time and social search because of the sheer amount of data the site has collected about what people are doing, the things they’re interested in, and what their social graph looks like. About 15 months ago, Paul Buchheit, the founder of FriendFeed, actually wrote that the human link data at sites like Facebook “could ultimately be more valuable than the link data from the web” that Google’s search engine is based on – someone just needs to mine it. Now he may have his chance.
Here’s the bullet point list of what Facebook got by purchasing FriendFeed:
– A collection of very smart, ex-Google engineers that really know real-time search
– A powerful, ready-made real-time search product
– A small, but influential user base full of early adopters willing to try and evangelize new products
Some might think FriendFeed was a second choice acquisition for Facebook, since the company couldn’t land Twitter last year. But FriendFeed was probably the smarter choice. At just under $50 million it cost less than 1/10th as much as Twitter would have, and comes with arguably a better platform and a team that’s just as strong. Yes, Twitter has more than 20 times as many users, but the acquisition of FriendFeed was clearly about technology and engineering talent – one thing Facebook is not lacking, after all, is users.
Facebook has one major asset: users, lots of them. 250 million registered users, to be exact, 30 million of whom update their status at least once per day. What they don’t have is users who are used to sharing their status updates with the world, but they’re trying to change that.
Google still gets more than twice as many visitors as Facebook, but how might that change if Facebook and the new engineering additions from team FriendFeed figure out how to slice and dice that user data in real-time? No one has yet really cracked the real-time or social search egg, but if Facebook can do it, its approximately hundreds of millions of monthly visitors could become hundreds of millions of monthly searchers – and that’s very monetizable and very dangerous to Google’s core business.
And what of Microsoft? Let’s not forget that Microsoft’s Bing powers web search results on Facebook, already. What if the two companies mash it all together and Facebook’s real-time, social web search results find their way out onto Yahoo! (which will soon serve Bing search results)? That’s a very plausible eventuality, and another that’s very dangerous to Google.
What should really worry Google, though, is Facebook’s track record. Facebook has a knack for taking the technologies geeks love and adapting them for mainstream audiences. They did it with the news feed (FriendFeed), photo tagging (Flickr), link sharing (Delicious), and even status updates, which Facebook had before Twitter, but only pushed to the forefront once Twitter got hot with early adopters.
Sometimes a vocal minority fights against these features when they are first introduced, but Facebook has proven that it has a knack for knowing when to tweak and change features and when to stand their ground to find that sweet spot for features that users eventually come to love and rely upon.
Given their past track record, it seems likely that Facebook will be able to get most of its tens of millions of active users to embrace whichever of FriendFeed’s features it co-opts and if they can then succeed in convincing those users to use its combination real-time/Bing-powered web search – look out Google, you have a new and very worthy competitor.