Facebook Graph Search: Important But Boring

I followed along as Facebook made its 'big announcement' today, and found myself torn. I think that Facebook Graph Search is:

  1. Really important. It's important because it makes Facebook a more usable and useful site. Facebook's current on-site search tool is pretty terrible -- it's almost impossible to find the people you're looking for, or any content that was posted more than a few days ago. If Facebook can help you find stuff on its site more easily then that's good both for users and for Facebook. I suspect Facebook will spend an increasing amount of its time simply upgrading existing features; now the growth in total Facebook users has slowed significantly, this type of basic upkeep will be crucial in making the site as useful as possible for the users who are already there. This type of work is boring, but it's vital -- like paying the phone bill, or fixing the leak in your roof.
  2. But not really a big deal. I've no doubt that parsing a trillion connections between a billion users is an immense challenge. And based on today's demonstration it looks like Facebook's engineers have solved that challenge pretty elegantly. But it's still just site search. The big news isn't that Facebook has fixed its search tool; the big news is that it didn't do this long ago. In fact, Facebook should be more embarrassed that its current search engine was so bad for so long than proud that its next search engine looks pretty good. For it to trumpet Graph Search as big news just looks silly. This is the kind of stuff basic, grown-up online businesses get right every day, without any fanfare. Again, like paying the phone bill, or fixing the leak in your roof.
  3. Not going to kill Google or Yelp. Will this feature go head-to-head with Google? I seriously doubt it; the two indexes contain entirely different kinds of information. Will it compete with Yelp or TripAdvisor? Again, unlikely; when was the last time you posted a full-paragraph review and a star rating of a restaurant or hotel on Facebook? But I suspect my colleague Shar will have more thoughts about how this fits into discovery; keep an eye on her blog.

The bottom line: Facebook Graph Search is important, but it's also pretty boring.


I disagree

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nate. I'm not sure I disagree. Saying that Facebook's Graph Search is just a site search misses the point of how it can use social data as signals. The idea has a lot of legs, and I can see real value in asking questions like "Who lives near me that enjoys the Packers," "What Greek restaurants do people from Greece enjoy?" and "Which of my friends have been to Aruba?" I'd suggest that has the power to be more important than what Google does, although I agree Facebook seriously competing with Google is a long way off.

On the other hand, you are absolutely right--what the hell took Facebook so long to get this right?!

A look forward

Nate, thanks for your views on this. Following up on Augie's comments, I can quickly see how this Q& A format progresses to suggested content and eventually promoted ads.

Suggested content:
You just checked in at Fenway, did you know Sally and Jim are big Red Sox fans?

Promoted ads:
Your sisters birthday is coming up. She loves fashion, here are Macy's women's clothing items currently on sale.

It will also be interesting to see how brand managers can use Facebook's Graph Search to do contextual outreach.

So while I think it was a ho-hum announcement as a platform (Google is adding social to search, FB is adding search to social). There seems to be considerable utility in the new search feature.
-John Refford @iamreff

I agree with most of your

I agree with most of your observations…
Before the others get carried away with how useful graph search is, we have to look at the relevance and meaning behind a “like” upon which graph search is heavily reliant.

You can buy likes on fiverr, kijiiji and craigslist to name a few.
You don’t have to have experienced any of the things you have ‘liked’ – credibility, trust??
How many fake and multiple accounts are there on facebook for one real person?

Those two points are very important. If I search Django Unchained – the new Tarantino film and find out my friends have liked it, how does that translate to a recommendation for me to see it or suggest some review for the film??. Therein lies the limitations of the like button and the sudden propaganda of suggesting it’s more meaningful than it really is.