Facebook CEO's 'search' comments raise hopes, questions

Wed Sep 12, 2012 6:39pm EDT
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By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has fired a warning shot that threatens to ignite a battle to marry social networking with one of the most valuable areas of the technology industry: search.

Long dominated by Google Inc, the Web search market represents a "big opportunity" that Facebook is uniquely positioned to address, Zuckerberg said on Tuesday at a tech industry conference in San Francisco.

Zuckerberg's comments, the clearest signal that Facebook is eyeing one of the Internet's most lucrative markets at a time when its own advertising revenue growth rates are slowing, helped shore up the company's battered shares.

Facebook's stock, which had lost roughly 50 percent of its value through Tuesday since the company's May initial public offering, finished Wednesday's regular trading session up 7.7 percent at $20.93 -- the biggest one-day gain since Facebook began trading on Nasdaq.

The 28-year old CEO's first major public appearance since Facebook's IPO provided much-needed reassurance to Wall Street, as Zuckerberg highlighted progress in the company's mobile business and expressed confidence in Facebook's future money-making prospects.

But it was Zuckerberg's talk of search that had Wall Street analysts and technology insiders abuzz on Wednesday, even if they couldn't agree on what exactly a Facebook search service would look like or how imminent such a service was.

Facebook "might be the only company on earth that I think could truly go up against Google and win on the search side," said Gerry Campbell, who has been involved with Web search at various companies for more than ten years, including as an advisor to Summize, a search engine for Twitter messages that was acquired by Twitter in 2008.

Facebook doesn't need to create an index of every site on the Web, as Google does, to be a useful search engine, he said.   Continued...

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a question and answer session at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, California, September 11, 2012. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach