Facebook Graph Search: Why Investors Shouldn’t Worry

graph search logoMuch 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.

 

 

Get Ready for the Bots – on Facebook Messenger

2Facebook Messenger was released 5 years ago and now has over 900 million users. Originally receiving a flood of negativity towards a standalone messaging app, compared to one simple Facebook app, users seem to be warming to it. The decision to make it standalone does make a lot of sense, since messaging is a big part of people’s lives nowadays and Facebook even bought the domain messenger.com to launch a version for web browsers last year. Their 900 million users will more than likely be merged with Whatsapp’s 1 billion users, which means that Facebook will have the personal phone number of every single user – sounds like $19 billion well spent.

 

Open for Business

So that’s humans covered. Where to go next? Facebook is now venturing into their next Messenger-based project: bots. If you haven’t been keeping up, Facebook launched Messenger Platform last month, which holds within it, chatterbots. Luckily, these bots are not machine learning bots, such as the disaster that was Microsoft’s Tay. They do have some humorous replies if provoked but they ultimately steer the conversation back to the subject they’re designed to cater for. Thanks to their highly advanced Send/Receive API, these bots are able to reply with actual structured messages, including links, images, hotel reservations, the weather etc. You may immediately compare this to Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Now and Amazon Echo, but what sets bots on Messenger apart is the fact that businesses can develop them, which in turn gives them another way to develop customer service. Simply put, bots could end up changing the world by replacing humans in such job sectors. Without the bespoke customer service integration that Messenger bots provide, the above voice-activated services will most likely not be able to solve business-related queries themselves. Having said that, the way bots behave is very reminiscent of the way Siri does. Maybe they’ll talk to each other one day and we’ll get the best of both.

 

Customer Service and Added Value

So how can these bots work for brands? Well, eventually, every major company in the world will have an account, which will be a first port of call when contacting their company. The reason this is almost definite is due to Facebook’s already-mammoth-sized network of users. It doesn’t get any bigger than Facebook when advertising to individual people, so connecting Messenger bots (as customer sales reps, for example) is extremely attractive. Messenger codes, one of many things taken from Snapchat, will also make it easier for businesses to connect with their customers. One industry example is how bots will almost certainly change how banking works for the consumer, replacing an app or web-based system with a dialogue with a machine that is able to understand your every need. The option to send money within Messenger itself is highly likely too, like Snapchat allows. This could also eliminate the hassle of speaking to a bank’s voice recognition system when calling by telephone – no more time (and money) wasted by the dreaded “I didn’t catch that. Please try again.” These voice recognition systems are essentially bots done badly, but they’re based on voice, which is a lot more difficult to translate into zeros and ones. Plus, you cannot autocorrect your voice (yet). I can see this whole system being replaced by bots – it could even connect you to a human advisor with ease, as you’re most likely already using your phone. Even if you’re using the desktop version or Facebook Chat, I’m sure they’ll figure something out. Besides banks, what other markets will benefit from this? Restaurants, travel and possibly supermarkets with online shopping services are big industries for it to thrive. The healthcare industry could also be a large portion – Healthtap have already created their bot, which isn’t surprising considering one of the first ever chatterbots was called DOCTOR and simulated a psychotherapist. In fact, the potential amount of markets are endless for this stream of interaction – just like it is with human customer service.

 

At the end of the day, customers are moving towards messaging as their preferred choice of customer service. And as generations progress, it will no doubt become the standard – a phone call will most likely be reserved for long, meaningful conversations with friends and family, which in turn will add even more meaning to them. The phone call will no longer be taken for granted, but talking to robots will be.