Mike Isaac

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Citi’s Mahaney: Facebook’s Social Search Got Nothing on Google

Mark Zuckerberg sent the Valley into a tizzy earlier this month.

He spoke at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference for the first time since the company went public, spitting out data points in rapid succession, faster than the audience (and, frankly, this humble reporter) could keep up. Among the most noteworthy: Facebook has a team working on its own version of Search, with a capital “S.”

While that may have raised a few Googley hackles, not everyone is convinced that Facebook has the chops to pull it off. And Google, the king of search, still has nothing to worry about.

That’s the word from Citi’s Mark Mahaney, who sent out a research note late Sunday that was mostly bullish on Google’s prospects.

As far as Mahaney is concerned, Facebook’s plans for search aren’t of the same ilk as Google’s Web search. And there’s some initial evidence of that already. As we saw last week, Facebook rolled out a small change to users’ Activity Log pages, now giving them the opportunity to view their search history inside of Facebook. A teensy step, but a bit Googley nonetheless.

Again, that’s a far cry from a Facebook version of search. And even Facebook’s joint efforts with Microsoft aren’t of immediate concern, Mahaney says.

“A year ago there was heightened concern that Social Search — especially the integration of Bing and Facebook — could be disruptive to Google’s core Search attractiveness,” Mahaney wrote in his report. “To date, there has been no real evidence of Social Search disruption.”

That seemed the biggest immediate threat, mostly because Facebook has blocked Google from indexing its results, while Bing’s Social Search allows for serving up some relevant Facebook data. Google has integrated its own social data into search results with Search Plus Your World, but that only incorporates Google+ data — and we all know much more sharing is being done on Facebook than on Google+.

“Frankly, we believe that the possibility of someone generating a truly competitive Search offering to Google has gotten remoter with each passing year,” Mahaney says. “Google’s core value proposition — especially for commercially oriented queries — appears extremely well intact.”

Mahaney set a price target of $850 for Google in 2014, in what would be a nearly 100 point jump over the next year and a half.

Monday’s market seems to reaffirm Mahaney’s outlook, as shares of Google traded up more than 2 percent to touch an all-time high of $748.90.

Shares of Facebook aren’t faring as well; after two weeks of healthy growth, Facebook slipped about 8 percent to 21.02 in late trading Monday.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik