Facebook wages war on Google

FACEBOOK yesterday unveiled a search engine that allows users to trawl through photos, reviews and profiles, in a move that sees the social network enter territory dominated by Google.

Announcing the new feature, Graph Search, from the company’s California campus, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the technology would become an extra pillar of Facebook, allowing people instant access to information shared by its billion users.

Graph Search only displays material people have shared on Facebook, making it different from Google’s web search. However, many of the queries the feature is designed for, such as “restaurants near me” and “photos of London”, are searches that people tend to turn to Google for.

Graph Search has been in development for over a year – before Facebook’s initial public offering last May – and was developed by a team led by two ex-Google employees. The new feature’s search results will also integrate Microsoft’s rival search engine, Bing, meaning users will be able to search the web directly from Facebook.

“If you do a web search, it’ll show you lots of links that may have answers to the question you might be trying to ask. Graph search is very different, [it] is designed to take a precise query and return the answer, not different links where you might get the answer,” Zuckerberg said, outlining the supposed advantage of Facebook’s search.

He showcased four main uses for Graph Search: Finding people; photos; places, for example “restaurants in Paris”; and interests, for example, “movies my friends like”. The search results use information shared by other Facebook users, such as checking in to a restaurant or liking a film, to provide recommendations.

The new feature could affect a host of popular web services, according to Victor Basta, a managing director at technology advisory firm Magister Advisors. “It positions Facebook as a much more significant strategic threat to Google than it has been to date,” Basta said. “Facebook has effectively rolled Amazon, TripAdvisor and tribal search engine capabilities into the ecosystem in one fell swoop.”

Shares in Zuckerberg’s company fell almost three per cent following the announcement, which had followed months of speculation that Facebook was building its own mobile phone.

Graph Search will be rolled out slowly, Zuckerberg said, with the technology still in its early stages. It will first be available to certain US users, and only on personal computers at a time when rising numbers of Facebook’s members are accessing the service via mobile phones.

Other features such as advertising in search results – a potentially lucrative source of revenue – are expected to be added in the coming months.