Graph search is Facebook’s attempt to snatch key territory away from Google and align itself more closely with its rivals; the specialised social networks people use for work and play. But what will Graph actually mean for Facebook users? And what benefits does it offer – if any?
Graph search is a more complex search than Facebook’s normal search function (which is pretty poor, to put it mildly). When Graph is out of beta, users will be able to search Facebook for specific combinations of keywords and demographic data to get more accurate, personal search results. The results are largely based on the information Facebook users have voluntarily given to Facebook; their preferences, personal data and connections.
In a way, Graph is a step towards Siri for the web: an intelligent realisation of natural phrasing, re-mixed as a search tool for the individual. For example, Graph really comes into its own with image searches; not only can Facebook users search for images by date or location, but using almost any identifier – including the age, gender and relationship status of the people in the pictures. This could, in time, turn Facebook into a massive recruitment site or dating hub, without any significant changes to the core features on the site.
Facebook is looking to satisfy its shareholders with better monetization; ads in search (or sponsored search) is a perfect way to bring in more revenue, because search powers just about everything we do on the web. For Facebook, the one thing they need to do is be mindful of their users’ preferences, and stay away from slipping in any sneaky privacy clauses. Instagram’s recent change in policy, and the massive user drop-off that followed, served as a warning to Facebook: take monetization too far, and users will vote with their feet.
One thing Facebook isn’t doing is offering up search results from the web, and in that respect, Google can sleep easy. But this is likely to be due to privacy concerns rather than Facebook’s own conscience as a company. Instead, Graph search is more about people and connections, likes and dislikes – the kind of data that the entire social network is built upon. Although Google’s tried to do this with +1 data from Google+, it simply doesn’t have the same vast catalogue of data to draw upon, making it less able to draw on its users’ experiences.
With Graph, Facebook is trying to leverage one person’s experience and use it as a recommendation for the next person. By doing so, basic searching becomes personalized and valuable. But what if your friends don’t have anything to recommend in your search category? In that case, Graph could turn out to be a damp squib – and you’d probably go right back to searching with Google.
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