This morning Facebook held a product announcement and introduced the world to Graph Search. While the name is pretty average, it does explain this new type of search very well. As the more than a billion users add content and connections to Facebook, making sense of that big data needed a solution and Graph Search is just that.
Graph Search works by typing natural launch searches like ‘What motels do my friends like in Canberra?” or “Photos from the 2013 Australian Open”. Advertisers have been able to target ads based on this data, but users have never had an easy way to access it. Actually this is even better than FB ads, not only will you know how many people will meet the specified criteria, but instead see who and what matches it.
You could visit the profile page of each of your contacts and read through their Likes. You could also try posting on your wall ‘I’m in Melbourne tonight, where should I eat?” and wait for a reply. However Graph Search will be a far more efficient way of getting at that information easily.
This completely new way of searching has the potential to replace other directories like Yellow Pages, being better, faster and more relevant. Being structured around natural language, it will be much kinder to everyday people, rather than complex operators required by alternatives.
Facebook say that today’s announcement doesn’t directly compete with the likes of Google, but that playing hard and loose with the truth. The reality is that this is the biggest thing to happen in search since the Siri. After Google dominated search relevance, we’ve had Microsoft introduce Bing, and while its called a decision engine, most times results are basically the same as Google’s old-school page rank. Then came Wolfram-Alpha which delivers scientific facts easily, but is not commonly used. The most recent change to search was Siri (beta) on iOS. This delivered voice commands in natural language that actually works (most of the time), but today’s announcement is even more significant.
Speaking of Bing, thanks to the early Facebook investment from Microsoft, the Bing partnership remains strong and will now power web searches done from Facebook’s Graph Search. Instead of taking users out of Facebook, results are displayed inside the Facebook UI, then only if you click a result does it take you away from Facebook.com.
Graph Search is a new breed of Search driving by new data sets that simply didn’t exist just a few years ago. Facebook’s Graph Search is powered and filtered by real people, not a heavily gamed / purchased ranking system of old. While they may try and down play it’s importance in the search world, this is a very exciting development.
Facebook is rolling out Graph Search to limited users right now, but will roll it out to all users (hopefully soon). Design wise, the UI change required to implement Graph Search is also significant. For the first time since Facebook launched, the word Facebook won’t appear on the page, instead replaced by just the F logo and an elongated search box.
Facebook has had a long history with privacy concerns. After the announcement this morning a number of users started to become concerned about their content being seen by more people, or people they don’t want to. It is important to understand that this change in no way modifies the public/private settings.
In a rather strange move the new Graph Search will be available on desktop search, with mobile to come later. This contradicts Facebook trends pointing to large hockey stick growth on mobile, so normally you’d expect this feature to be mobile first. Considering a lot of the benefit of Graph or Social Search will benefit people is when they are out and about, mobile would have been my first guess.
For more information and to sign up for early access, head to https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch