Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Facebook’s Graph Search – The good, the bad and the ads

Mark Zuckerberg took a page from Steve Jobs‘ playbook today, with a cryptic announcement that it would hold a press conference today at 10 a.m. PT. With Apple, however, we usually have an idea of what to expect – the next iPhone and/or iPad – though we may not know all the features.
Well, Facebook isn’t a hardware company, and no one really knew what to expect until Zuckerberg took the stage to talk about the three pillars of Facebook – Newsfeed, Timeline and… Graph Search. This is essentially an improved search function – which they needed. Before launching it, Facebook had to do a lot of legwork to ensure privacy and that users only receive results from people in their networks, whose information was already shared with them. This is differentf from web search in that it is insanely personal and relevant to you. Here are a few of the features:
  • You can search anything within your Facebook network that was already public to you. This includes photos, places updates, what your friends like, etc. For photos, this is ranked by the most “Likes” they received.
  • If you search for something specific, such as “soccer,” all of you friends who “Like” soccer are listed, ranked by who’s most important to you.
  • You can search Places to see who of your friends have been to, for example, a new restaurant you’d like to try.
  • Graph search auto-completes (like Google), so it will start to finish your query for you based on what it knows about you.
  • You can search for “friends who live in Boston,” and it will show you a list of those friends, in case you want to visit (and why wouldn’t you?)
  • Dating on Facebook? Okay, this part is creepy. As Emily Price of Mashable noted, you can search for something like “People named Chris who are friends with X” to find someone you met at a party. Oh, and you can search for things like “single women in Boston.” There is certainly a potential creep factor here, but we do have to remember that our networks are choosing to share all of this information.
  • If Facebook can’t find the results, they show results from Bing, just adding more fuel to the fire between Google and Facebook.
What does this mean for users, brands and advertisers?
Ad monetization has been top of mind for Facebook for a long time, specifically mobile ad monetization. This may dramatically impact that –  just look at Google’s success with search advertisements for proof. Especially if they hone in on this for mobile searches and incorporate location and behavior targeting, this could turn things around for Facebook. Could, is the key word there – this isn’t a guarantee. If Facebook launches this thing well and can show positive search results, accuracy and that users are actually engaging in Graph Search, then Facebook could offer advertisers the opportunity to buy “ad words,” much like they buy Google ad words. Better yet, they could be locally relevant on mobile devices.
Privacy is top of everyone’s mind, as it should be. I guarantee people are flocking to their privacy settings to see what people will be able to search. They are concerned that people will see their information, and are guaranteed to freak out even though they are the ones who made this public in the first place. The big issue I see here is that you can search for something such as “friends of friends who are single.” I realize we decide if our friends’ friends can see our information, but that one is often overlooked because no one thought a query like this was possible. So my recommendation is that you should probably update that one, if you haven’t already.  Realistically though, all Facebook did was make it easier for you to find information that you already had access to, even if you didn’t know it.
Accuracy is also a concern, because people are not always telling the truth on their pages. For example, I put that I speak Gaelic on my Facebook page as a joke a while ago – I do not speak it other than a few choice words. Yes, slainte is one of them. That’s a small example though, of how I could inaccurately show up in someone’s search results.
Community managers are all in a Twitter tizzy about how excited they are about Graph Search so they can better connect with people on their pages, and to see who “Liked” what posts, etc. Also, anytime you search for something, such as a new hair salon, you can see what salons your friends liked. This is huge for brand pages, especially those that have a lot of Likes.
Personally, I welcome this update. Am I going to replace Google with Facebook? Of course not, and that’s not what it’s meant for. But Facebook’s search feature needed a major face list – pun intended. It has been a pain for some time now to search even your own timeline. Major events in my life and my friends lives have all been recorded in one way or another on this social networks since 2005, and I welcome a way to access that. Also, who’s opinion am I more likely to trust about a restaurant I want to check out – a stranger on Yelp, or a couple of my friends from high school?
What are your thoughts about Graph Search? Are you excited about it, or are you on you way to block all your information so it won’t appear in search results? Will this solve, or at least help, Facebook’s advertising problem?