On Feb. 1, a few hours after Facebook declared its intention to raise $5 billion in what will likely be the largest initial public offering in tech history, Mark Zuckerberg gave close followers of his company a potential clue to its future. On his Facebook profile, he uploaded a photograph of his desk and a large sign that read in big red letters, “Stay focused & keep shipping.” Yet it was the adjacent MacBook laptop in the image that drew the most attention. Visible on the computer’s screen was a blurry image of a Facebook page and, at the top, what seemed to be an unusually elongated white box. Web pundits speculated the image showed a prototype of a new Facebook search engine.
To date, Facebook hasn’t made search a priority, and it shows. The prominent white box at the top of each page is good at helping users find other members. It’ll also spit back Facebook pages for brands and locations, recent status updates from friends, and general Web search results powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine. It’s a crude tool, however. Type in “Sonoma winery,” for example, and you get a disorganized assortment of wineries, people who work at wineries, unrelated banner ads, and a page for a wine-tasting iPhone app. In February, Facebook fielded 336 million search queries, according to ComScore—magnitudes fewer than Google and its closest competitors.