SALT LAKE CITY — Facebook wants to change the way you search for information on the Internet. During a press event last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s latest endeavor: Graph Search. Until now, search has been largely based on technical factors — such as keyword relevance and page popularity — rather than more “real life” ranking factors.
Over the past few years, search has become an increasingly social experience. Rather than finding the restaurant with the most optimized page, as with Google, users can find the best Brasserie near them based on ratings and check-ins from their friends. This personalized, relationship-driven model takes advantage of the vast amount of user data Facebook analyzes — including your friend’s interests and Likes.
Declaring war on Google
Does the concept of Open Graph sound familiar? It should. Recently, Google went in a similar direction with Google+ and Google Places, incorporating social and business data at the top of their search results. Unfortunately, Google+ doesn’t have the same user base, and many Googlers who have accounts don’t use them. Facebook, on the other hand, has a user base to start with.
The biggest question I’ve received from colleagues is, “Can Graph Search compete with Google?” There isn’t a simple answer. Users inherently go to Facebook to read about their friends’ glamorous lives, laugh at the latest memes or plow their virtual farms. As a society, users aren’t accustomed to searching for information on Facebook. Rather, it’s drilled deep into their DNA to “Google it.”
Social Search: the new normal
As search technologies evolve, social search is the next major revolution that will change the entire landscape. Right now, it’s based on fancy ranking factors that most people don’t understand — such as the number and quality of inbound links — instead of what matters most to you. On Google, a site in the “first” spot may not be the most relevant, but it’s meticulously optimized.
Search engine optimization is dying, and Graph Search was the nail in its deathbed. Continuing the trend towards a personalized user experience, Graph Search marks a significant shift in thought leadership. We’re moving towards a personalized, recommendation-based culture. Who knows you better: your friends and colleagues, or Google?
Limited by your social sphere and honesty
Initially, Graph Search will cater towards users who have extensive networks. The more Friends you have, the more data Facebook can crunch to produce better search results. Initially, Graph Search is designed with the restaurant and entertainment industry in mind, with a seemingly acute interest in small businesses. If you have a small network, it’ll be easy to spot the limitations of Graph Search.
How many times have you “Liked” something on Facebook, but don’t actually like it in real life? Facebook’s algorithm can’t detect ironic user behavior, such as the Justin Bieber page you sarcastically liked a few years ago. “Dirty data,” as it’s often referred to by advertisers, will be a rowing problem for the company if they can’t decipher genuine interactions from sarcastic malfeasance.
Can it compete with Google?
On the most basic level, Facebook cannot compete with Google for every day information gathering. But, for finding restaurants or activities, Graph Search has potential. To truly compete with Google on a higher level, user mindset needs to change, which likely won't happen anytime soon. Social Search will undoubtedly be the norm, but it is platform agnostic.
As a cohesive product, Graph Search can’t cut it. Perhaps more appealing is Graph Search as an “app” you can connect to Google Search to integrate your social data, similar to Facebook’s partnership with Bing. Zuckerberg is onto something, but in the real world, not everyone shares every second of his or her life on the Internet…not to mention the flurry of privacy issues.
Joe Thomas is a professional copywriter and content editor from the San Francisco Bay Area with a passion for consumer electronics and mobile technologies. Follow him @Joseph_S_Thomas or email Joseph@JSThomas.org for more information.