Forget about Google Me, Facebook unveils its Google rival
For weeks, techies have speculated about Google Me, the company’s secret project to take on social networking king Facebook.
But Google isn’t the only one that can play that game.
On Wednesday, Facebook unveiled a new question-and-answer service for the 500 million users of its Internet social network that could have serious implications for Google.
The new service isn’t a traditional search engine, per se, but it addresses many of the same needs that a search engine does, and thus could pose a threat to Google’s lucrative search empire.
Facebook Questions, as the new service is called, allows any Facebook user to tap into the collective knowledge of the vast Facebook community for recommendations about restaurants and music, gardening tips, or whatever else tickles their fancy.
Facebook said on Wednesday that the service is currently being “beta” tested with a limited number of people, but that it hopes to make it widely available as quickly as it can. All answers to queries will be publicly visible to everyone on Facebook and classified according to topics or themes for easy browsing by Facebook users.
Google boss Eric Schmidt and co-founder Sergey Brin have stressed that Facebook is not a threat to Google, noting that web surfers conduct significantly more searches on Google when they become Facebook users.
But it doesn’t require a huge leap of logic to imagine how Facebook’s new Questions service could lessen the need for Facebook users to visit Google’s site to find answers to at least some of their queries. And less searching on Google, of course, means less opportunities for Google to make money from its search ads.
Facebook Questions is the latest example of the recent trend in online “social search” services. Indeed, one of the most well-known such services, Quora, was developed by a pair of former Facebook engineers. Earlier this week, Ask.com unveiled its own question-and-answer service which it has integrated directly into its search engine Web site.
Google itself acquired Aardvark, which offers a similar service, in February for a reported $50 million. Google doesn’t appear to have done much with Aardvark since acquiring it, but the debut of Facebook Questions may push social search up the priority list at Google.