Facebook’s Graph Search Is A Compelling Offering

After much speculation on the web about Facebook’s big announcement, it has emerged that the social networking giant has been working on ‘Search’, something that it has lacked sorely in spite of its growth and rise as the biggest social medium in the world. Industry watchers looking for a Facebook phone would have been heavily disappointed and I think Facebook will not pursue the phone idea just yet, when it is already doing so well on that front. The company’s mobile ad offerings are working well since its debut some months back.

Coming back to search, most of our dependency for finding out new information lies on Google, which has been hard at work figuring out how to make search intelligent and helpful in addition to being personalized. Facebook on the other hand just allowed you to search for friends and Facebook pages. When you think of it, the amount of personal data that Facebook has because of its 1 billion people sharing constantly on the network is enormous. We cannot stress how important that is! If utilized properly, it the most crucial asset for Facebook in terms of monetization and product features. And that is exactly what Facebook has done with its new Search product. Called Graph Search, this new feature helps you mine into that huge database by querying whatever you want. You will get results for people, photos, restaurants and so on depending on how you word your search. You type in a query in natural language like ‘Photos of me and my friends in 2011’ or ‘Music my friends like’ and it will immediately pull information by analysing your social graph and its ‘photo’ and ‘music’ related connections with your friends.

This new search experience has been built into Facebook and will feature site-wide. The interface has changed as a result of this and the search bar is now bigger, in fact the ‘Facebook’ header has now been shortened to an F icon.

Lars Rasmussen (of Google Maps and Wave fame) along with ex-googler Tom Stocky are the lead people on the project. The fact that there are two very accomplished Googlers working on this project for Facebook should give Google anxiety. Another reason for Google to get nervous about this new feature is the fact that it cannot access all this information as Facebook is a closed domain except for third-party apps. All this data can never be leveraged by Google, which has made its business by scraping through websites on the Internet since 1998.

Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook’s social search is as important a ‘pillar’ as Timeline. The rollout of this feature will be purposely slow since  it  is a complex offering and will require feedback from users in order to iron out the kinks. Since this feature gives information about users all over Facebook, the potential privacy implications are serious, something that Facebook is not alien to. The company has however, said that they will be deploying simple privacy options which will make it clear to users about the data product leverages from its users. The company has also made it clear that Facebook’s search is much different from web search. Web Search (despite Google’s efforts) doesn’t have personal and social context in the same way that Facebook has. Facebook has partnered with Microsoft’s Bing so as to bridge the gap between Graph Search and Web Search.

Watch this video where Zuckerberg, Rasmussen, Stocky and others speak about Graph Search and its differentiation from web search.

Facebook’s search may also have an important impact on brands and marketing since it gives out information about their pages and location. Right now it shows information and about bars and restaurants but it can scale over the years to include things which cater to all kinds of businesses. The marketing opportunity for brands will probably be based on the search ranking of these businesses depending on the right parameter of queries that are directed. You could probably pay to let your brand rank higher in search (while Facebook keeps in mind the necessary search context). This is just speculation on my part but it could work out in this way. The company has also said that Instagram data will eventually be added to the product thus making for increasing visual content on the service.

Ultimately, it is my belief that Facebook’s search could add immense value to the company and its users. I think so because Facebook has become a little boring in my opinion. Searching information on Facebook has always been a problematic experience. But once Graph Search comes into the picture, it will be interesting again with respect to discovering new people, places and activities thus making sure that you can interact and discover better things in your community and social circles.

What is your take on this? Do you think that Graph Search is game changer? Tell us.

Source | Facebook

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