What is Facebook's Graph Search?
Social media kingpin Facebook announced on January 15, 2013 the release of a massively upgraded and expanded new search tool: Graph Search. Unlike the relatively weak search functionality found on Facebook previously, the new Graph Search is expected to potentially make Facebook a major player in the search engine arena – an arena that is ruled, of course, by Google. This could have a major impact on companies that rely heavily on search engine optimization as a promotional tool since Graph Search will theoretically provide a new, different and very powerful way for individuals to research businesses online.
However, Facebook executives made it clear during the announcement of this product that it was not designed to function as a broad internet search engine; instead, it is designed to focus on the details of information and content already found on Facebook. Nonetheless, since most major search engines have been attempting to include a more social aspect in their results, the fact that Facebook automatically has that capability built in to a degree that most companies could only dream about is still reason enough to make its competitors nervous. The impact of the announcement on the search industry – especially the socially focused search industry – was reflected immediately by a drop in many companies’ stock prices. For example, Google’s price dropped by 1.3 percent by the next day, while Yelp’s dropped by 8.5 percent. The long-term impact, of course, remains to be seen.
The rather clumsy name for the new feature comes from the common use of the term “social graph” to refer to the sum total of all content users as a whole put on a social networking site. Graph Search is simply designed to make it easy for users to access specific pieces of information that already exist on the social graph. Unlike the list of links that may or may not contain answers generally provided by most search engines, Graph Search is designed to provide the actual answers the user is looking for immediately.
Up to this point, users could use Facebook’s search to find little more than private or corporate Timelines, or profile pages – not the information on them. A partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine included general search engine data in the results, but did not dramatically change the overall structure of the tool. However, a dramatic change is exactly what Graph Search provides. Now, Facebook users will be able to search for extraordinarily specific subsets of data, including photos, places, things liked and so on. The goal is for this to enable people to more easily find things that they have in common with their friends. For example, they could locate friends from high school who are fans of a particular sports team, or work associates who enjoy jogging, just for two simple examples.
The feature will be designed to work with natural, spoken-style English. Instead of having to fill out a complicated form with multiple fields, users can simply ask Graph Search a question about the type of information they wish to find. Graph Search could potentially have a wide variety of potential uses, from idle curiosity to dating to job hunting to business recommendations.
Graph Search is currently available in beta. Users can access it early by signing up for a waiting list if they wish. No announcement has yet been made regarding when the service is expected to launch in full for all users, only that access will gradually be opened up to more and more people. Obviously, not of all of the features Graph Search is expected to include eventually are yet available; third party app functionality, for example, is expected before the tool launches fully.
Concerns regarding privacy issues are a common response to most Facebook changes, and this one is no exception. However, Facebook officials claim that the only data that will be accessible through the new Graph Search will be information users have already chosen to set as public on their profiles. The privacy tools and settings included on Facebook will still be in full effect, and will not change as Graph Search is rolled out.
During the launch event for Graph Search, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the new technology “one of the coolest things we’ve done in a while.” Only time will tell whether he is correct in that assessment. It cannot be argued, however, that this is one of the most ambitious additions Facebook has yet attempted, both for SEO specialists and private individuals.