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Facebook event buzz: Search, phone, ads, newsfeed

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Facebook will tonight hold a press event at which it will unveil a mystery new product, with speculation suggesting a Facebook phone, an advertising platform, a revamped newsfeed or a search engine.

The multi-billion dollar social network, founded by Mark Zuckerberg in his college dorm room, sent out invites last week to a press conference at its California headquarters on January 15.

Invite: Facebook Event 15th January


Using similar tactics as regularly employed by Apple, Facebook's invite offers just a cryptic one-line message, asking journalists to "come and see what we're building".

Yesterday, Facebook's stock opened above $32 (£19.90) for the first time since July 2012, indicating that Wall Street has high hopes for the new innovation. So, here are four possible products that Zuckerberg could introduce later:

Facebook Phone

Facebook was previously rumoured to working with smartphone maker HTC on a project codenamed 'Buffy', said to be a Facebook-branded handset. Technology analyst Dr Richard Windsor expects tonight's announcement to be a "hardware strategy", possible an Android-based tablet or smartphone.

He told The Guardian: "The Android [device] will have been modified and optimised to embed Facebook deep into the user experience. It could also include other functions such as search powered by Facebook or an optimised browser on these devices. This would basically have the effect of taking search and browsing traffic away from Google and putting it through Facebook's own servers."

However, various Facebook officials, including Zuckerberg himself, have previously said that a phone would be a "wrong strategy" for the firm, as it would not "push the needle" in terms of usage.

Likelihood: Low

Facebook

© Rex Features



Facebook Ad Platform

Facebook has seen huge growth in usage on its mobile apps and websites over the past few years, but it has been accused of being slow off the mark in making money from this through advertising.

After introducing mobile ads in 2011, they accounted for 6% of Facebook's total ad revenue in the first nine months of 2012, according to Facebook's own results. But most analysts believe that there is huge room for further growth.

Facebook could announce a new mobile advertising platform today that would help third-parties more effectively target ads at Facebook users on mobile devices. Such a move would be a big boost for the firm ahead of its four-quarter earnings call at the end of January.

"There's a lot of speculation. Nothing to me seems to be that certain," said Jefferies & Co analyst Brian Pitz. "If I were to bet, I'd think it was something that was ad-platform related. I'm not convinced on the phone."

Likelihood: Medium

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about Timeline during the f/8 conference

© PA Images



Facebook Search

As Google well knows, search is massive business on the web. Facebook's current search functions are pretty limited and revamping them could give the firm more options in terms of attracting users and increasing ad revenue, its biggest earner.

Whilst Zuckerberg played down the phone speculation last year, he was more buoyant on the prospects of search becoming a big growth area for the social network. "Facebook is really uniquely positioned to answer a lot of the questions that people have," he said in September.

Facebook could look to serve its users with more local information, such as restaurants or shops, meaning they spend more time in the social network and less on rival products. Google recently integrated its own social network, Google+, into web search, meaning some users are presented with recommendations from their Google+ friends around search results.

Ben Gibson, the managing director of The Search Agency UK, said: "In the same way that Google has looked to mostly replicate the proven success of Facebook with Google+, Facebook would be wise to replicate the proven success of Google search, with a tweaked auction-based paid click model.

"Facebook has a huge opportunity to take a slice of the search market away from Google by allowing users to remain within the Facebook experience whilst searching. It also has one massive advantage: access to users' social data - something that Google is only slowly catching up on. This will mean search results are merged, enabling greater targeting, as well as more recommendations, in a way that provides a richer experience."

Gibson said that one issue facing Facebook would be whether the new search engine directed users to pages within Facebook, or took them outside the social network. "If it errs too greatly on the closed wall approach Facebook is liable to run into difficulties with user adoption," he added.

Likelihood: Medium-high

Apple iOS 6 video review screengrab

© Digital Spy



Facebook (refreshed) Newsfeed

Business Insider reported yesterday that Zuckerberg has tasked Chris Cox, his vice president of products and most trusted lieutenant, with revamping the newsfeed - effectively the homepage for Facebook's 1bn members.

Citing sources close to Facebook, the website said that Cox is trying to reinvent the way information gets distributed via Facebook. According to the site, Zuckerberg's vision is that the Facebook newsfeed should become "a kind of information distribution hub for the entire Internet".

It is thought that this would involve the newsfeed being geared to know more about users by constantly analysing what they are interested in based on their friends, purchase history, internet history, location and more factors. This would essentially make it "smarter" by presenting more relevant content. Business Insider also said that the feed would pull content in from more sources, rather than just Facebook Pages, possibly linked to the release of an ad platform in future.

Likelihood: Medium-High

The press event starts at 6pm UK time on Tuesday. Digital Spy Tech will be live blogging from the London satellite event, so stay tuned.

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