Social Networking

Facebook Offers New Ways to Plumb Its Depths

Facebook announced Monday it was expanding its Graph Search to give users a more complete experience, allowing searches of status updates, photo captions, check-ins and comments. Graph Search rolled out to a limited number of English-speaking U.S. customers earlier this year. At first, it limited searches to individual or brand profiles.

The new functionality gives users quicker access to a wider range of information. Now, for instance, it’s possible to search for “posts written from the Statue of Liberty” or to find out what friends are saying about a popular topic by searching, say, “posts about the government shutdown by my friends.”

Facebook began rolling out the updates Monday to a small group of people who already have Graph Search. It plans to further enhance the feature based on the feedback it receives.

Bigger, Wider Conversations

The updates to Graph Search are largely an effort to drive user interactions on the site, said Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence. Major social networks like Facebook and Twitter are battling to be the preferred site for users to congregate — to share their thoughts on trending topics and then stay to search for and read what others are saying about those events.

“Facebook will potentially benefit through increased Graph Search usage and engagement,” Sterling told TechNewsWorld.

Facebook is struggling to compete in that regard, said Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media. Twitter is the site that popularized the idea of trending topics and the use of hashtags, and it’s often credited as the go-to site for live chatter. However, Facebook’s sheer volume of global users is far greater than Twitter’s, and it’s looking to leverage that advantage.

“Facebook has a problem in that they don’t get credit for the huge volume of conversations on their platform,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Twitter gets the credit because it’s easier to find specific conversations. Facebook’s addition of hashtags and now this improvement in search is also an effort to surface more of this content.”

Those broader conversations won’t come without questions about privacy, though, said Sterling. Users are still able to see only information that has been shared with them — but that could include posts that others have made public.

If too many users fear having their information more widely available and rush to make their profiles private, Facebook will have a tougher time facilitating meaningful conversations about general topics, Sterling pointed out.

“This will make more content discoverable through search and potentially benefit users looking for information,” he added. “However, it could also expose personal content to a broader audience that some Facebook users may not want exposed. They will need to adjust privacy settings.”

Better for the Bottom Line

The benefits from Graph Search to the company’s bottom line will come as Facebook continues to tweak the feature, Sterling said.

“It will monetize search eventually — and the more search queries, the greater the revenue opportunity long term,” he predicted. “Having said that, Graph Search still has a long way to go to realize its potential.”

Once it does, the feature could be a revenue driver, said Tobin.

“As Google has shown, there’s a lot of money to be made in search,” he pointed out, “but first you have to drive consumer usage. The initial graph search was mostly good as a novelty. It didn’t provide the same value as a Google search. So Facebook is trying to broaden the utility of search so more people can use it. If that works, monetization will follow.”

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