Facebook is NOT a Google Killer

“Nobody Googles,” said the tweet.

“Huh?” I said, shaking my head, making sure I wasn’t imagining things.

“Nobody Googles,” it still said. I was reading a live Twitter stream from a conference I was going to visit later, and the keynote speaker said that, at least for his industry, nobody Googles to try to find people in his job. (I don’t want to pick on the guy, so I won’t say who he is, or what industry he works in.)

I caught up with the guy later at the conference, before I was supposed to speak.

“What are you talking about? Google reports 34,000 searches per second. That works out to 3 BILLION searches a day. How is that ‘nobody?’”

“For my particular industry, according to a study we have, 3% of the respondents found [this job/title] on Google, but 64% found them through their sphere of influence — referrals from friends, Facebook, and social networks.”

That made sense. That particular job is one that is usually found through referral, and not search. There’s trust involved, after all.

“But, that doesn’t mean NOBODY Googles,” I said. “Ten million people search each month for [a commonly-used phrase] in your industry. That’s not ‘nobody.’”

“That’s not the point,” said the guy. “The point is social search is going to replace Google. In fact, Google is going to be gone in five years, because everyone will be searching Facebook and social media for information.” He believed that Facebook was going to kill Google. Not just for his industry, but all around the world.

The long and short of his assertion is that Facebook will be able to answer all my questions via social search, including questions like “Did the Ancient Greeks really burn their boats before a battle?” or “What year was Nils Bohr born?” (Yes, and 1885).

Sure, social search is going to be good for a lot of things. Where is a good place to eat in Cincinnati? Should I go see the new Harry Potter movie or wait for the DVD? Does anyone have extra tickets to Dave Matthews Band? Think of social search as “emotional search.” Things that go to my pursuit of happiness would be emotional search.

But compare that to “intellectual search,” which we use Google for now, like Nils Bohr’s birthday (October 7, 1885). Sure, some of my Facebook friends might know that. But — and this is a big but — that assumes that the friends who know when Nils Bohr was born are actually looking at Facebook during the time that I ask it. If they’re not looking at it, and my question whizzes past them in their news stream, I’ll never get the answer.

In the meantime, Google, Yahoo, and Bing are all there for me, 24/7. They’re here for me at 11:45 pm (as I write this) when I have to actually find out when he was born. It took 3 seconds, thanks to the new Google Instant search. But a similar query on Facebook was less than helpful: one friend’s answer arrived within 3 minutes — “October something, late 1800′s???” Someone else responded with the correct answer after about 7 minutes, but she admitted she had to look it up. On Google.

In other words, Google knows Nils Bohr’s birthday in 3 seconds. My friends, at 11:45 pm, do not. So what do I do if I need to search out information at 2:00 in the morning, and my friends are all asleep? What if I want to know the symptoms of pneumonia in children, but Google is dead, gone and buried by Facebook’s social search?

Ain’t gonna happen. Google may have just been beaten by Facebook for Time on Site for August, but we’re talking a very small margin — about 2 million minutes. A very small margin of victory for Facebook does not signal a death knell for Google any more than an Indy Car driver getting beat by .001 seconds means he should retire from racing.

I don’t want to be a Google cheerleader, because it’s not like I get anything out of it (attention Google: I wear a XXL t-shirt, and I’m sure you guys can find my address in your giant database. Also, I like Morton’s Steakhouse, if you’re sending out gift cards). But when someone says something rather outrageous like “traditional search will be gone in five years and replaced by Facebook,” I have to call bullshit. Because that’s not going to happen.