Facebook’s mystery event yesterday popped a surprise noone was expecting (And no, it wasn’t the phone). Facebook has announced the launch of Graph Search Beta – a search engine of sorts within the Facebook ecosystem. The product is still a closed beta, so you would have to request for access to use it (we already have). In an introductory video, Mark Zuckerberg referred to graph search to one of the pillars of Facebook. The other pillars being the news feed and timeline.
What is Graph Search?
Graph search is a search utility for Facebook. Given the wealth of information we all volunteer on Facebook (such as our personal information, our likes and dislikes, our friends, their personal information, their likes and dislikes), the kind of searches that the tool can do is more (*draws a deep breath and looks around for privacy advocates on the web*) personal. Say you want to see which of your buddies are into hiking. Graph search lets you run queries like ‘find all my friends who like hiking’ The demo video also shows off claims of more complex searches like “photos that friend X and friend Y like” or “people whom I work with who like to ski”.
This is quite an amazing feat as these capabilities of the Graph Search are indicative of massive scalability with respect to search. These search results will be generated as a result of querying and drawing inference through analysis of millions of data sets, which just goes to show what a powerful tool Graph Search can be.
Is this a game changer?
I personally think of this to be a real game changer. Any platform with large amounts of data requires an able search tool and the current one on Facebook doesn’t really leverage the kind of user data that Facebook has. With talks of ‘Facebook Fatigue’ going around the internet, Graph Search can really bring out commonalities between people on Facebook which will increase engagement considerably. Graph Search can also be a potent discovery tool. The vain Facebook user (which is most of us) is going to use the social network a lot more knowing that other users can find them using this. Finding events that might interest you is also going to be a lot easier with Graph Search.
Take this as an example.Earlier, you could share places you’ve visited through the TripAdvisor app on Facebook. But that meant, friends on Facebook who visited your page could admire your travel urges. Now, there’s more reason to share, as friends looking for info will be directed to your page or photos and find the info in context.
This could also be a great play for mobile screens, where real estate is limited. Being able to search for contextual info that goes beyond checkins could make the mobile experience more engaging.
Mostly, from a Facebook standpoint, I think Graph Search is going to provide a great monetization model. With increased user traction, promoted search results can be a large source of revenue for Facebook. Facebook ads can also be integrated tightly with Graph Search, showing specific ads for specific searches.
How does this affect users in India?
If you’re using Facebook from India, you may have to wait for a while before you see the changes. Graph Search is a private beta for English (US) users. We don’t have a date as to when the service will be available in India yet.
India has a 150 million users of the internet of which only 62 million are on Facebook. There will be a large number of adopters of the technology and the effectiveness of the tool will be solely dependant on the friends that you have and how active they are on Facebook.
With only a 10th of India on the Internet, the internet itself is going to be a phenomenon for the next wave of web enabled Indians, let alone Facebook, and moreso a feature on Facebook which is still a private Beta. However, integrating Graph Search with the mobile app and site will be very effective in India. The number of internet users on mobile devices is very high and incorporating such a search feature on the mobile platform will be widely used.
Indians are known to have used mobile services like Zomato and Burrp to discover places to go to and Facebook’s Graph Search can definitely eat into this space with ease. While fore-mentioned services are still trying to build a social network around their product, so as to increase engagement, Facebook’s Graph Search is a one stop solution to all these use cases.
Users of this service will be a predominantly urban crowd which will enjoy using the tool; as one Facebook post read, “Stalking is going to be infinitely easier!”
Should Google be worried?
At this point, I must apologize to those whom we baited with the headline. In the context the search game, Graph Search is just another tool in a closed ecosystem (a very large one at that, but closed nonetheless). What Graph Search is to Facebook, Google is to the internet and the Internet is a much larger place that Facebook (That probably sounded rhetoric. Just to signify the scale that we’re talking about) So no, there isn’t that big a reason as to why Google should be worried about Graph Search right now.
However, both Google and Facebook are both forward looking companies.Google will be keeping a close eye on Graph Search as this has the potential to disrupt search in many ways. A lot of the internet that’s relevant and interesting would be indexed on Facebook. Facebook knows you, your friends, their likes and dislikes and what you and they are upto. While you might still rely on Google for information, Graph Search provides an avenue for opinion. If Graph Search is monetized, then I think it can eat into Google’s business.
But one thing is clear. Social Search is no longer just words and Facebook’s Graph search is the first significant step towards that direction.
With inputs from Shrinath V