Facebook Graph Search is brilliant

Let me eat a little crow.  I thought social search was all hype when Mark Zuckerberg passively mentioned it in a talk a couple months back.

So when Facebook revealed Graph Search, I finally understood why it is such a big deal.  Facebook isn’t competing for traditional search with Google, they are competing for attention with Google Plus Local, Yelp, and AdWords among others.

With Facebook’s audience, they are perfectly positioned to dominate this space.  Let me share a few thoughts about why this is an exciting development.

Why do users end their Facebook sessions?

Facebook users generally hate Timeline.  So much as they understand what it does, users hate EdgeRank.  Why do they hate these?  They hate them because they are inflexible tools that restrict their capability to consume the content that they want to consume.

With Graph Search, Facebook just introduced a tool that transforms their network from one of the most rigid social platforms to one of the most agile.  Facebook has a billion users that already spend an unprecedented amount of time on site.  With the freedom to consume on an agile platform, I expect time on site to increase by quite a bit.  With Facebook advertising getting more and more effective, increasing time on site drives revenue that much higher.

Social validation plus

Social validation is powerful.  For businesses on Facebook, the most common social validation used to be a “Like.”  Whether you liked it a lot, or liked it a little bit, or liked the enticement offered for your Like, the result was Like.  The quality of your social signal was poor.  Graph Search changes that.

Now that users can search for local businesses, what a user says or shares is far more important to businesses than ever before.  Likes are more important than ever before.  I hate Yelp because of their aggressive filtering, the age of their tastemakers and the way they treat businesses that list there.  With Graph Search users get feedback from a group of acquaintances that they are more apt to trust.  And the capability to influence their friend’s tastes will most likely encourage many users to increase their social signals (via Likes, check-ins and recommendations).

Think about what that means for businesses:  More activity.  Better opportunity for word of mouth.  Better opportunity to retarget.   If businesses get over the fact that it’s incumbent for them to pay-to-play on Facebook, they should see the opportunities that Graph Search offers.  This is a huge advantage for local businesses to realize Facebook relevance again and for Facebook to entice large corporate brands to pay for advertising in this space.

How does this compare to Yelp and Google?  Probably quite favorably – especially if this encourages more Likes, Check-Ins and reviews.  I use Yelp, but I don’t feel like the reviewers are always earnest.  And for Google’s merits, I think that the Zagat acquisition and incorporation of the 30-point scale convoluted Google Reviews.  I expect that Graph Search may fit nicely in this space, which is a phenomenal accomplishment considering how flaccid Facebook had become as a vehicle for brands.

Lack of imagination

The immediate loser in this appears to be Bing.  Facebook not only took away one of the biggest differentiators between Google and Bing, but also showed that social content could be arranged in a way that gives users much more power to consume and engage that content.   There’s very little reason to search Bing for social signals anymore – Facebook does it much better.

Graph Search will probably change social media forever.  With the power to consume and discover on their own terms, it will be difficult for rigid social networks to make a value proposition to users or brands.  This probably solidifies Facebook as the preferred social network of every generation preceding Gen Y.  I’m not sure that Graph Search changes the impression with the multitasking generation that Facebook is their parent’s (and grandparent’s) social network.  This doesn’t solve all of Facebook’s problems, but it addresses a lot of them.

Graph Search is a game changer for Facebook.  It makes Facebook better for users.  It makes Facebook better for advertisers.  It makes Facebook better for investors (who were probably concerned that the only innovations Facebook could muster were rip-offs of sexting apps).   It’s one of the rare accomplishments that I didn’t believe Facebook could do: improve user experience while putting themselves in a better financial situation.

What do you think?  What are your impressions of Facebook Graph Search?  What do you think it means for Facebook?  What do you think it means for other social networks?


Photo Credit

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • http://www.annettapowellonline.com/ Annetta Powell

    I think the immediate gainer will be Bing! People will use the Graph Search, will find nothing useful based on the dumb “Likes” and suggestions by their dumb friends. I assume that Facebook will still show the Bing results below the Graph Search results as usual. After getting frustrated with the results based on the friends “Likes”, most probably they will click on Bing results :) I am not sure if Bing results will be in Graph search results.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Annetta, you may very well be right. I am a Bing hater, so I take any opportunity that I get to pre-emptively hate on Bing. I’m excited to see the impact of graph search, and if Bing benefits I might be okay with it! :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/gonzogonzo Frederic Gonzalo

    Graph Search a game-changer for Facebook? I really don’t think so. Not yet, at least. Facebook has many ongoing issues to resolve, in particular addressing the mobile needs or simply allowing people to edit copy – gee, how complicated can this be?
    The game-changer will occur, I think, when Facebook will tie Graph Search with timely ad placement. For now, I’ve never felt the need to “search” while on Facebook, so I don’t see how this is going to suddenly change overnight…


    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Frederic, you’re exactly right about the immediate introduction of Graph Search being a non-starter…. except for the additional time on site. I think search is so synonymous with Google, that it may be misleading. of course you’re not going to search for the same things on Facebook that you do on Google, but you might use Graph Search in the same way you use Yelp or Google Plus Places. I’m excited about the agility that it brings to the Facebook user experience, and I suspect that we’ll both be surprised when it hits its stride! Thanks for your insights and for reading! Cheers!

  • http://barrettrossie.com/ Barrett Rossie

    I really appreciate this perspective Jim. Maybe I’ll learn to like FB a little more than I do now. Maybe it will be a much better tool for businesses and their customers. Maybe — it’s good to have some perspective and context as it all unfolds.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Barrett – I don’t care for Facebook too much but it seems to me that this is a huge step forward for user experience and advertising. I’m excited to try it out. Cheers!