Will Facebook’s Graph Search push Google off its perch?
When Facebook cryptically invited members of the press to “Come and see what we’re building”, the tech industry ignited with buzz and rumors. And as anticipated, the company unveiled its new super tool, Graph Search, which Zuckerberg had hinted at back in September.
Described by Zuckerberg as the “third pillar” of Facebook (after Newsfeed and Timeline), Graph Search has the potential to transform the way people use the social network. Initially allowing users to search four categories – people, places, photos and interests – the tool takes natural language queries and returns precise answers.
For example, type ‘friends that like Breaking Bad’ and the Graph Search will return a list of yep, friends that like Breaking Bad. And the search criteria can go deeper still. Thanks to the sheer volume of data available on Facebook, queries such as ‘photos of X taken before 1995’ and ‘what music is most liked by doctors’ also throw up comprehensive results.
Graph Search doesn’t present any information which isn’t already publicly available, making it a marketer’s dream – instead of sifting through thousands of fan pages, the intel is already there (much like Socialbakers’ Local Page Ranks).
However, the tool has a long way to go yet. As Zuckerberg commented at the unveiling, “Graph Search is a really big project. Eventually… we want to index all the posts and all of the content on Facebook.”
Until then, it’s likely that some queries will throw up a blank, and in this case users will be taken to search engine Bing – run by Google’s main rival Microsoft. Talks with Google about a potential collaboration allegedly broke down after Facebook insisted on greater privacy protection.
Zuckerberg is keen to distinguish Graph Search from ‘regular’ search engines, though, commenting that “Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and return to you the answer, not links to other places that might take you to the answer”.
Despite widespread acclaim, though, Facebook’s announcement has been swiftly condemned by some. The Telegraph’s William Henderson accuses the company of using the tool to simply “extract value” from its users, claiming that:
“The perception of people is something that always has evaded Facebook, and ultimately always will. Even if the depth of friendship among your Facebook ‘friends’ may vary from reasonable acquaintances whom you might be happy to see again to best friends in the world, a non-human medium is never going to be the final administrator of human interaction.”
Meanwhile, others are disappointed that Facebook’s surprise announcement wasn’t more groundbreaking. Andreas Pouros, COO at London digital agency Greenlight, says that the move is “unlikely to be enough to allay investor concerns over Facebook’s commercial focus.
“Many had expected Facebook would have launched a new mobile phone today or thrown down the gauntlet to Google and challenged the company in Web Search supremacy, neither of which happened.”
Pouros adds: “Web Search is a touchy subject as everyone knows that it is a hugely lucrative market, and one Facebook was expected to enter. Graph Search may well be a precursor to that but I fear investors will suspect that it’s too little progress.”
Nonetheless, many are speculating about Graph Search’s potential as a recommendation tool to rival the likes of Yelp and TripAdvisor, plus the role it could play in the recruitment process: employers could search for candidates based on the right backgrounds, proving a formidable threat to LinkedIn.
The tool is still in its infancy and won’t be a threat to Google any time soon. However, the potential risk it poses to other well-established sites means the search giant shouldn’t rest on its laurels.