Much anticipated, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled this week that Facebook has built Graph Search – a search engine within Facebook that combines web search with your social graph thus making it possible to search your entire life and those of your friends. Graph Search offers an entirely new way to explore your social life by asking questions in a natural language and even very specific queries. If you need tips on e.g. a travel destination, Mexican restaurant or music inspiration, your search results will be based on your friends’ likes and check-ins. But the investors’ question remains: How will Facebook make money out of it?
Continuous Google war
As stated by AllFacebook, industry experts have been wondering what the Facebook would do about search ever since Mark Zuckerberg discussed the topic at TechCrunch Disrupt in September. Last year at about the same time, Google started to integrate Google+’ social graph into search results in order to pull all the information that matters to you within the context of your social life, but didn’t have success with doing this. Microsoft’s Bing has been the source for web search on Facebook for a while now, and with Graph Search leading more traffic to Bing, this search engine will grow stronger.
The fact that you can now look up who of your nearby friends you share interests with, also makes Graph Search a competitor to Google+’ recently launched Communities feature. Facebook will undoubtedly constitute an actual threat to Google as a search engine, as I think most people rely on Google for any kind of queries – things that aren’t necessarily socially related. However, Graph Search’s social aspect brings a whole new value to Facebook, as you can now find inspiration for things that are leisure related. An area where you seek your friends preferences and recommendations – a validation Google is incapable of and which will make us use Facebook in a new way. Instead of asking your friends about for instance a job opening through a status update, you can now search for e.g. “friends of friends who work within social media in my area”. All in all, Graph Search makes Facebook a vehicle of discovery that allows you to explore your already existing community – thus launching Facebook into serious competition with LinkedIn, New MySpace, Foursquare and online dating sites; sites that Facebook previously didn’t directly threaten.
Facebook stocks falling
All good news, you might think. But after Zuckerberg’s presentation of Graph Search, investors were not convinced by the new feature and how it could be monetised. Instead, Facebook stocks fell after the Graphic Search announcement according to Business Insider. The reason might be Facebook statement that Facebook’s search effort currently is focused on users, according to Wired, thus not giving any information about a monetisation strategy for Graph Search. Facebook does however acknowledge that advertisers will likely follow: “Graph Search is a way to ask a specific question, to express an intent in some way. And of course an advertiser would want to target that intent. That’s what search ads are for.” So Facebook isn’t denying a future commercial interest, and Pages can still use Sponsored Results. Facebook Studio explains how to optimise your business page for Graph Search and points out the importance of optimising your page, so that people will discover you when searching for relevant information through the social graph, i.e. the filter of their friends.
The users are the product!
However, in my opinion, it is wise to keep a focus on the user experience for now. Investors seem to forget that the actual product and value of Facebook is in fact its users. If Facebook doesn’t develop the network with a focus on user experience, their commodity (the users) will eventually leave the network. With last week’s announcement of 600,000 UK users leaving Facebook in December 2012 and speculations of users reaching a ‘Facebook saturation point’, the user-oriented focus on Graph Search is therefore great news in my opinion. It gives users an enticement to explore their Facebook and connect to friends in new ways. In other words, Graph Search might just be what will keep Facebook users on the platform. Personally, I’m looking very much forward to experiencing Graph Search.
Graph Search is currently in beta, but is rolling out gradually, starting with a very small number of users.