Why Search is Facebook’s Tailbone

Who’s sitting on something that could be valuable but is not using it?  Facebook.

Last night at the Facebook press and analyst event, I had the opportunity to meet with product managers who asked me for my take on the Facebook strategy, which I gave a number of opinions. I did tell one product manager that “Facebook’s tailbone is search, you guys are sitting on the data and it’s not doing anything”. He spit out his drink into his cup, which got the attention of the PR “handlers” resulting in a chuckle from Scoble (being more disruptive than Scoble at a press junket is a feather I’ll now finally put in my cap). Some FBers told me they’d use that phrase to drive future innovation internally, so I wanted to ink this so it can be shared.

Tailbones on humans are a reminder of a feature that’s not being used, and the same thing applies to Facebook. While the product manager reminded me that there are millions of searches done on Facebook each day, I clarified that was often for finding profiles and pages, and the odd external search feature they have. Facebook doesn’t allow regular consumers to easily search the contents of their newsfeed, and that of their friends. If you see something interesting you can bookmark the page in your browser, or hire an expensive brand monitoring company at $100k+ a year, which of course, no consumer will do. While I’m sure there are a variety of apps that can cull and organize the data of your feed and your friends, it should be a native feature.

Facebook is on track to being about a $4 billion dollar company this year, with a Market Cap of $61b but that’s still dwarfed compared to search giant, Google. To put things in perspective, Google’s revenue was nearly $38b for 2011, with a current market cap of $231b and will surely increase year to year. Facebook allowing for search tools to be used within the network could quickly disrupt this market, allowing consumers, and brands to get additional value.   The data Facebook is sitting on can easily surpass the short term memory that the Twitter search tools offers, with truncated content.

SO what could Facebook build? They’re sitting on the world’s largest set of social data of people I actually know and care about, not some distant celeb in Twitter or a famous photographer in Google+, and could derive a tool that would help me to search my friends content and even my prior archives. This social search tool would also expend beyond their current search tools, I searched for top restaurants, but it returned pages, apps, and then finally posts of people I follow who had the crude word ‘restaurant’ in it, it really doesn’t show intelligence.

To really hammer in my point, I’ve posted pictures of my Facebook visit last night on Google+ as it will be easier to find in Google, Bing, Yahoo, and any other search engine that evolves.  Facebook is sitting on a trove of social data that hasn’t fully surfaced, they’ve an opportunity to evolve and truly be a dominant force in finding content –not just served on a newsfeed.

When Facebook launches a worthy search tool, it could be a strong contender in the search wars, evolve that tailbone.