Archive for August, 2012

by Ben Elowitz

This article was published as a guest post at AdAge, and is republished here for Digital Quarters readers.

In May, I predicted that Facebook would introduce a search offering by the end of 2012. Recent reports suggest that the battle for search may heat up even before the weather cools down – Facebook was already starting to link Open Graph with search results in June.

But the big question remains: Will Facebook’s search engine be better than Google’s anytime soon?

On the whole, no way.

Then is Facebook spending mega dollars to develop an algorithm that needs constant upgrading – one that will almost certainly be inferior to the search engines we already have – all for naught?

Here’s the thing: a Facebook search product doesn’t need to be better. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t need to be better all the time. If a Facebook search returns a better result once in twenty searches, it will be a success.

We tend to think of search as a winner-take-all market (in part because Google has practically taken it all with its 66% market share). And for the majority of searches, it’s true that Google can’t be beat. If I’m looking for an address, a specific article, the origin of a phrase, or that Mark Bittman recipe for pasta alla gricia, Google is my best friend. But what about when I’m searching for something less specific and more taste-based? On this front, the market leader leaves a whole lot to be desired.

“Good books.” “Restaurants in Bali.” “Car mechanic in Seattle.” The list I get from Google isn’t right – good book, interesting restaurant, reliable mechanic according to whom? Recommendations are the thin-edge-of-the-wedge: an entry point into search where Google is weak. Pinterest and Yelp have already staked out important segments of this otherwise unclaimed territory. But Pinterest isn’t going to help me with auto mechanics, and Yelp is struggling with its own “there’s no accounting for taste” problem.

The fact is, I’m already turning to Facebook for this kind of information – it’s just poorly organized. When my car window got stuck halfway open (not a tenable condition in my perpetually-drizzling city), I remembered a post from a few months back about my friend Jen’s amazing new mechanic and scrolled down through her timeline to find the name of the place. But what if I couldn’t remember which friend had posted? And how do I know that another friend didn’t rave about a mechanic just as great but in a closer neighborhood?

Searches for hotels, restaurants, books, movies, and music – just a few of the categories that would be greatly improved with access to friends’ recommendations – account for 650 million Google searches in the US every month (according to data pulled from Google’s keyword tool). That’s almost 6% of the 11.7 billion searches Google processed for US users in May. If Google brings in $36B in search ads annually, that’s a $2 billion slice of pie that Facebook could lift right out of Google’s lunchbox. And they could do it without even developing a full-web search.

In theory, Google could preemptively lock up that lunchbox by building their own recommendation search. They will almost certainly try to do just that, but they will lack the data to build a credible offering. Facebook has a 100X or better data advantage when it comes to recommendations, and that data advantage continues to snowball: Facebook logs 2.7 billion Likes every day to Google’s 20 million +1s. (Google doesn’t release the actual number of +1s, but let’s be generous and assume it’s roughly in proportion to the time spent on each network.)

Facebook is in a position to push with its greatest strength – a big and beautiful dataset of people and their relationships to brands, places, things, and other people – on Google’s most vulnerable point. And once Facebook gets a foot in the door with recommendation search, it won’t take much for them to push the door all the way open. The first time Facebook serves me five great beach reading recommendations from trusted friends is the last time I’ll even think of Googling “good books” before a vacation. And the same goes for choosing a new bank, finding a dentist, switching internet providers, buying car insurance, and on, and on, and on.

Pretty soon, 20% of my searches will be just as good or better on Facebook’s social search. And when Facebook finally does tack on whole-web results to the package (internally or through a partner like Bing), I’ll be much less inclined to leave Facebook, which is already my home base, to search for that Mark Bittman recipe on Google.

Survey data suggests that I’m not the only one who would be willing to give up the Google entirely if Facebook had a passable search offering. 17% of respondents in Greenlight’s 2012 “Search & Social Survey” would “definitely” or “probably” use a Facebook search engine as an alternative to Google. Another 27% indicated that they might be willing to make the switch.

Facebook search will win us over slowly, by degrees. They’ll start with what they know – the likes and dislikes of you, your friends, and people like you – and they’ll woo us with exceptional answers to a few key questions. We’ll keep the old, reliable search engine around for a while…but as soon as Facebook makes the move, Google’s days will be numbered.

by Ben Elowitz

Facebook has maintained its squeeze on sending traffic out to web publishers for another month.

The average publisher on the Social Leaderboard lost 0.1 percentage points in social composition from May to June.  The most social publishers fared the worst, with the top ten losing an average of 0.6 percentage points month-over-month.

The Top 3:  Wetpaint Entertainment, NFL, People

Even after losing 1.5 percentage points since May, Wetpaint Entertainment held the top spot on the Social Leaderboard with almost 30% of traffic coming from Facebook and Twitter.  The #2 spot was taken by NFL, which climbed three spots on the leaderboard and drew 12% of total traffic from social channels in June.  After holding second place for two months, People fell to 4th place, and  MTV held steady at 3rd.

Average Loss: 100,000 Social Visitors

Each month, we measure social traffic two ways:  by composition (percent of traffic from social); and by total volume (number of social visits).  In June, volumes also saw a slight decline.  Wetpaint fared better than most, adding 100,000 visitors in June and becoming the 11th  most social publisher by volume (not counting portals) with 1.4 million social visits.  The Huffington Post still holds the top spot in the volume ranking, with 6.5 million social visitors in June.

Guess Who Squeezed Traffic Even More? 

While Facebook traffic to publishers was down this month, Google traffic was down even more.  This could be a turning point – the gap between Google’s and Facebook’s traffic contributions to publishers has been widening in Google’s favor since March, but the June results show a reversal of the trend.  Will Facebook finally close the gap and officially become a more important traffic source for publishers than Google?  Check back next month to see if  the trend continues.

Details for Social Leaderboard Publishers:

MONTHLY RANKINGS

Jun

May

Apr

Name of Publisher (Owner) URL

Monthly Uniques

% from Social

Change

1

1

1

Wetpaint Entertainment WETPAINT.COM

                 4,172,874

29.3%

-1.5%

2

5

5

National Football League NFL.COM

                 4,005,954

12.0%

1.6%

3

3

4

MTV MTV.COM

               10,314,480

10.8%

-0.1%

4

2

2

People PEOPLE.COM

               12,424,002

10.5%

-1.0%

5

7

9

TMZ TMZ.COM

               11,485,750

8.7%

0.1%

6

4

3

NBC Universal NBC.COM

                 5,210,665

8.5%

-2.0%

7

8

10

Yahoo! YAHOO.COM

             155,141,946

7.3%

0.1%

8

10

11

Major League Baseball MLB.COM

               14,857,814

6.8%

0.1%

9

9

8

Patch (Aol) PATCH.COM

               11,178,542

6.7%

-0.4%

10

6

7

CBS CBS.COM

                 5,130,686

6.2%

-2.7%

11

11

12

Aol AOL.COM

               48,274,409

6.2%

0.0%

12

28

31

E! Entertainment Television EONLINE.COM

                 6,036,527

5.8%

2.1%

13

15

16

Entertainment Weekly EW.COM

                 5,648,180

5.5%

0.3%

14

14

19

TV Guide TVGUIDE.COM

                 5,701,617

5.3%

0.0%

15

16

17

IGN (News Corp) IGN.COM

                 8,385,741

5.3%

0.1%

16

19

21

CNN CNN.COM

               42,355,439

4.9%

0.1%

17

18

22

MSN MSN.COM

               93,297,562

4.9%

0.0%

18

20

20

FOX News (News Corp) FOXNEWS.COM

               25,048,343

4.8%

0.0%

19

17

18

US Weekly USMAGAZINE.COM

                 6,349,666

4.7%

-0.3%

20

23

23

BBC News BBC.CO.UK

               12,572,110

4.5%

0.3%

21

13

15

Discovery Channel DISCOVERY.COM

                 9,501,796

4.5%

-1.0%

22

21

13

TIME TIME.COM

                 6,980,029

4.3%

-0.1%

23

22

27

The Huffington Post (Aol) HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

               38,557,478

4.1%

-0.2%

24

12

14

Break Media BREAK.COM

                 8,666,861

3.9%

-2.0%

25

29

29

New York Daily News NYDAILYNEWS.COM

               10,818,073

3.7%

0.0%

26

24

26

National Geographic Society NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM

                 5,410,317

3.7%

-0.3%

27

35

6

The Guardian GUARDIAN.CO.UK

                 8,035,982

3.7%

0.7%

28

25

24

The Washington Post WASHINGTONPOST.COM

               16,253,595

3.7%

-0.3%

29

26

25

New York Times NYTIMES.COM

               25,415,028

3.7%

-0.3%

30

33

33

Nickelodeon (MTV Networks) NICK.COM

               10,489,580

3.6%

0.4%

31

31

30

IMDB (Amazon.com) IMDB.COM

               34,449,740

3.5%

0.3%

32

32

36

Bleacher Report BLEACHERREPORT.COM

               10,126,821

3.4%

0.2%

33

27

28

CBS News CBSNEWS.COM

               10,775,680

3.3%

-0.5%

34

30

32

FORBES FORBES.COM

               11,733,587

3.3%

-0.1%

35

38

35

Los Angeles Times (Tribune) LATIMES.COM

               14,005,725

3.2%

0.5%

36

36

38

Cartoon Network (Turner) CARTOONNETWORK.COM

                 9,270,980

3.0%

0.1%

37

34

34

Food Network (Scripps) FOODNETWORK.COM

               13,629,536

2.6%

-0.4%

38

37

37

Wall Street Journal (News Corp) WSJ.COM

               12,259,307

2.5%

-0.2%

39

41

40

FOX Sports (News Corp) FOXSPORTS.COM

               17,869,805

2.0%

0.0%

40

40

39

Reuters REUTERS.COM

               10,285,882

2.0%

0.0%

41

39

41

USA Today (Gannet) USATODAY.COM

               16,604,354

2.0%

0.0%

42

42

43

WebMD WEBMD.COM

               14,952,061

1.8%

0.0%

43

43

42

CNET (CBS Interactive) CNET.COM

               22,956,989

1.8%

0.0%

44

44

44

Bloomberg BLOOMBERG.COM

                 6,373,252

1.7%

0.0%

45

46

45

everyday Health EVERYDAYHEALTH.COM

                 9,426,117

1.6%

0.0%

46

45

46

Businessweek (Bloomberg) BUSINESSWEEK.COM

                 6,490,385

1.6%

-0.1%

47

48

49

LIVESTRONG (Demand Media) LIVESTRONG.COM

               14,265,338

1.2%

0.1%

48

49

48

About.com (NY Times) ABOUT.COM

               51,103,478

1.1%

0.1%

49

47

47

ThePostGame (Yahoo) THEPOSTGAME.COM

                 7,594,651

1.1%

0.0%

50

50

50

Mayo Clinic MAYOCLINIC.COM

               10,112,971

0.9%

0.0%

51

51

51

eHow (Demand Media) EHOW.COM

               50,306,160

0.8%

0.1%

 

 

 

 


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