By Jon Swartz
MENLO PARK, CA - Facebook fired a direct shot at Google and its vast search-engine empire on Tuesday with a new search tool for users to sift through piles of pictures, posts and places.
The new Graph Search feature, which will be slowly rolled out over weeks, is designed to keep Facebook's 1 billion users on the site, lure data-obsessed advertisers and make a dent in Google's multibillion-dollar search machine. It might also butt heads with services such as Foursquare and Yelp.
"This is one of the coolest things we've done in awhile," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a packed press conference at the company's headquarters here. "It's the kind of product we love to build at Facebook: It's for a big technology problem and big social problem."
Anticipation of the first big news from Facebook in months had prompted investors to snap up shares and and push them above $30 - though still shy of the company's IPO price of $38 in May.
Yet, on Tuesday, investors were unimpressed: Facebook shares tumbled 2.7%, to $30.10.
The hoodie-wearing Zuckerberg says the tool could offer Facebook a path to crack the online-dating market and compete with such sites as LinkedIn that specialize in job recruiting. In one example, he showed a list of Mexican restaurants that his Facebook friends had visited and "liked."
But he and other Facebook executives emphasized Graph Search is not a Web search, and can only view content that friends have shared.
What also distinguishes the new Facebook search: You can use real sentences and questions, not just key words.
"This is big data at its biggest," Gartner analyst Brian Blau says. "It will eventually affect any company that deals with a large amount of data."
Financial stakes are high.
Facebook raked in about $4.2 billion from advertising last year - 84% of its estimated $5 billion in total revenue, according to eMarketer. Leading the charge were mobile display sales. Facebook took home about 18% of the U.S. market last year, or $339 million, besting Google's 17%.
Google took home 15% of the nearly $15 billion U.S. display ad market, with Facebook close behind.
Payments accounted for Facebook's remaining $800 million in 2012 revenue, eMarketer estimates.
Don't expect a mobile version of Graph Search soon. "It's going to take years and years to index (all the information on Facebook)," Zuckerberg says. "In the future, we want to get to mobile, non-English languages, and all the posts and all of the content on Facebook."