San Francisco: Nearly a year after it announced its bid to go public, Facebook faces the ultimate burden of the information age: how to help its users find what they are looking for amid the billions of pictures, likes and status updates they post every day.
Ferreting out treasure from junk is its biggest challenge—and potentially its most lucrative opportunity, a chance to topple Google from the throne as the king of search.
If you're looking for, say, a movie to watch next weekend, Google can provide long lists of movie reviews from strangers. Facebook, though, could theoretically tell you what movies your friends liked—and what, by extension, you may be predisposed to like. That kind of service would delight advertisers—and, by extension, Wall Street.
“If Facebook would decide to become serious about search, it would be in a position to give Google a run for its money,” said Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC, a financial research company.
Facebook has had a tumultuous run on Wall Street. It made its public debut last May at $38 a share, the most highly valued technology stock in history, but plummeted almost immediately. But the stock has been climbing for the last month, benefiting from a coy invitation the company sent to reporters about a product announcement scheduled for Tuesday.
“Come see what we're building,” the invitation read. It promptly set off speculation and sent the stock flying. Shares opened Monday at $32, the highest in six months, and closed at $30.95. Facebook declined to comment for this article.
“Search, I would say, is a very high priority for Facebook,” Colin Sebastian, an analyst for Robert W. Baird and Co. said. “Facebook has this incredible treasure trove of unstructured data on the site.” But building a search tool is a challenge. To tackle the problem, Facebook has aggressively expanded its staff of search engineers in recent months. It now has nearly 100 devoted to cracking the search puzzle, led by a former Google engineer, Lars Rasmussen.
Facebook more than any other platform has a singular and huge data set to mine: Its users gush about what they like and listen to, whom they admire, where they jog, even what they eat.
“When there is too much information, there is high value in search, navigation and discovery,” said Bill Tai, a venture capitalist who has invested in some of Facebook's rivals, including Twitter.
©2013/The New York Times