Mark Zuckerberg didn’t exactly say Facebook is taking direct aim at Google, but that about sums it up. The Facebook CEO’s comments Tuesday afternoon on Facebook’s search efforts, and hints about its future, were enough to leave any listener with the impression Facebook thinks it has a bigger role to play in how we seek out information online.
Asked about competing with Google in search, Zuckerberg said Facebook is already doing on the order of a billion search queries a day, “and we’re basically not even trying.” He believes there is a big opportunity for Facebook in catering to people searching online for information on brands, businesses, and apps – “we need to go do that” – as well as serving people’s more general search queries. Zuckerberg says Facebook already has a team working on search.
“Search engines are really evolving toward giving you a set of answers,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not just like ‘I’ll type in something and show me some relevant stuff.’ It’s, ‘I have a specific question, answer this question for me.’ When you look at it from that perspective, Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have: ‘What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York in the past six months and liked?’ ‘Which of my friends and friends of friends work at this company I’m interested in … so I can talk to them about what it’s like to work there?’
“These are queries you could potentially do in Facebook if we built out the system that you couldn’t do anywhere else. And at some point we’ll do it…. That’s one obvious thing that would be interesting for us to do in the future.”
Zuckerberg’s interest in search comes as Google is making a huge effort to return the favor – expanding from its core search business into Facebook’s bread and butter, social networking. Google is attempting its own social makeover in part by injecting information from its own social network Google Plus into search results and into Google-hosted email. It’s hard to fault Zuckerberg for wanting to push back, and, more importantly, to try and snag some of the billions of dollars Google makes each year showing search ads.
Zuckerberg also made clear he sees another big opportunity in mobile. He said Facebook believes it can make more money on mobile than it does on the desktop, and that mobile users are more likely to be active every day than desktop users.
Trouble is, for all the potential of mobile, Facebook has spent the last couple of years blowing its opportunity. Zuckerberg believes Facebook erred in making cross-platform mobile apps based on HTML5 rather than snappier, smoother native apps.
Facebook finally released a native iPhone app – the result, Zuckerberg said, of a crash program within Facebook. Mobile is now a huge priority for the company, with code contributions to apps coming overwhelmingly, Zuckerberg said, from a wide array of product teams within the company rather than from the single, siloed mobile team.
In part, the shift to mobile was a personal priority for Zuckerberg, who said “I basically live on my mobile device.” Zuckerberg said he even wrote the “founder’s letter” that accompanied Facebook’s IPO prospectus on his phone.
On stage with Mike Arrington, Zuckerberg conceded that what’s happened to Facebook stock since the IPO “doesn’t help” with employee morale. “The best people want to work on a mission they believe in, but they also want to make a bunch of money,” he said. Facebook’s stock price declines, of course, have limited the upside of employee stock inventices.
But Zuckerberg did his best to put a happy face on the situation. He said he tells employees, “the way we do compensation is we translate the amount of cash we give you into shares…. So if the stock is undervalued you’re going to get more shares…. I actually think it’s a great time for people to join and it’s a great time for people to stay and double down.”
It takes chutzpah to say that a declining stock is actually a good thing for employees. But then chutzpah is always something Facebook’s 28-year-old CEO has always had in abundance. As Zuckerberg told Arrington in response to a question about his buggy computer programs, “Everything I do breaks, but we fix it quickly.”