Facebook takes on Google with Graph Search

16 Jan 2013

ITEM: Facebook’s big announcement Tuesday was not a new mobile OS, as the rumor mill had been expecting, but a new search engine that could give Google a run for its money – provided it can avoid another privacy debacle.

Graph Search – developed in collaboration with Microsoft Bing – doesn't search the web, but rather Facebook’s massive collection of social networking data. Initially it will focus on People (“people from my hometown who like hiking),” Photos (“photos of my friends before 1999”), Places (“restaurants in New York liked by chefs") and Interests (“movies liked by people who like movies I like”).

According to The Verge, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg described Graph Search as "the third pillar" of the site’s platform (the first two being News Feed and Timeline), and differentiated it from conventional web searches in one other way: "Graph Search is designed to show you the answer and not links to answers."

FierceMobileContent describes how it works:

Facebook will introduce a blue Graph Search bar that runs across the top of the user's page--instead of inputting keywords, users can type specific questions or query parameters, like "Dentists liked by my friends" or "Friends of friends who are single men in San Francisco." A persistent "Refine This Search" box hangs on the side of the screen at all times, enabling users to modify search equations on the fly.

Graph Search is limited to beta for the time being, which means only English speakers in the US can use it for now. It’s also not available for mobile just yet, although Zuckerberg said Facebook is working on that (though he didn’t give a timeline for when the mobile version would be ready).

As for Graph Search’s chances for success, Julien Blin, directing analyst of Consumer Electronics & Mobile Broadband at Infonetics Research, says that it could “pose a serious threat” to search competitors from Google to Yelp, especially if Facebook ever creates a way to simplify mobile purchases:

"You can clearly see how [Facebook] could monetize on mobile," Blin told FierceMobileContent. "Imagine a case where someone is looking for friends who bought shoes in San Francisco. They could pull up a list of nearby stores with comments from friends, or even send a gift."

On the other hand, Facebook runs the risk of some serious privacy issues by giving users a way to search through its troves of personal content, says Ovum principal analyst Eden Zoller.

“Facebook Graph Search will no doubt leverage member data to provide advertisers with more targeted, personalized advertising opportunities going forward,” Zoller says. “But Facebook needs tread very carefully here and be mindful of user privacy.”

Facebook claims that all Graph Search results are privacy-aware, meaning users can only search content already shared with them or content that is publicly available. Still, says Zoller, “Facebook has a mixed track record on this front and is in the habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable.”

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