Facebook Gets Serious About Discovery With Graph Search
Facebook has rolled out a search feature that helps users locate information in the depths of its vast archives of posts. The technology is designed to help people find relevant information based on their friends' posts, but it is more limited in scope than Google. "It's not going to tell you the score of a baseball game," said Ovum analyst Jan Dawson. "It's not going to help you with your homework."
Jan 16, 2013 9:26 AM PT
Finding anything on Facebook has been a difficult exercise for years, but that's about to change.
After a year of intense, secret development, the social network on Tuesday rolled out its new search technology called "Graph Search."
The technology is designed to make it easier for Facebook members to find information about their friends and others. It takes advantage of the vast amount of information Facebook has stored and tagged about the billion or so people who use its service.
All those pieces of information are like dots on a graph, and Graph Search permits Facebook users to connect those dots in unlimited ways.
Not Web Search
Lest it goad the ire of Google, Facebook made a careful distinction between Search Graph and Web search.
"Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: "hip hop") and provide the best possible results that match those keywords," the company explained. "With Graph Search, you combine phrases (for example: 'my friends in New York who like Jay-Z') to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that's been shared on Facebook."
Distinctions aside, there are those that see Graph Search as a threat to Google's search hegemony.
Graph Search gives Facebook the potential to create targeted advertising with greater depth and relevance than Google, according to Michael A. Cusumano, a management professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management.
"Facebook has the potential to go deeper than Google does because [Facebook] has a lot of information on friends and friends of friends," he told TechNewsWorld. "Google really doesn't have that kind of information from people who use search."
The use of that type of granular information can give Facebook, in the future, a leg up on Google in the highly competitive Internet advertising market, according to Venkat N. Venkatraman, chairman of the information systems department at the Boston University School of Management.
If the ads on Graph Search pages receive more clicks because they're very relevant to a search, he told TechNewsWorld, "Facebook has a basis to leapfrog Google."
A Google search for the best hotels in San Francisco, for example, will display results based on links, Venkatraman noted. It's a kind of universal opinion. The same query posted to Facebook will display hotels your friends think are the best, which may be more relevant to you.
Facebook did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Won't Help With Homework
Graph Search, though, won't be appropriate for the vast number searches people conduct on the Web, according to Jan Dawson, chief telecom analyst with Ovum. "It's not going to tell you the score of a baseball game," he told TechNewsWorld. "It's not going to help you with your homework."
"It's only appropriate for finding recommendations about things connected to your friends," he observed. "It's a very narrow set of search results delivered to you."
Whenever Facebook debuts a new feature, the first thing that enters the mind of many people is, how is it going to violate my privacy now? This time, though, Facebook was ready for the privacy crowd.
"We've built Graph Search from the start with privacy in mind, and it respects the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook," the company said. "It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook."
While Graph Search may be dredging up information that was already available to searchers if they dug for it, the technology may still shock users concerned about their privacy, argued Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"What people once thought was shared only to their Facebook audience -- whether that's their friends, networks, or the whole public -- but figured was too hard to find is now readily available," he told TechNewsWorld.
Years ago, for example, you may have "liked" a Samsung Mobile page, Kamdar noted. Now, if you work for Apple and every time someone searches for "People who work at Apple who like Samsung Mobile," your name pops up. "That could lead to a heavy dose of awkward."