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Photo: In the Metro Credit: John Nyberg

Graph Search is the new search feature from Facebook that allows users to use the social network in a more deliberate manner.  I was pretty excited about the theoretical possibilites for Graph Search when Facebook announced its release, but after using Graph Search it’s evident that something is missing.  There aren’t enough social signals on Facebook to realize its potential.

This means that Facebook’s capability to compete with the recommendation features of Google, Yelp and others is contingent upon its users to increase their social signals.

The good stuff

There are a lot of things to love about Graph Search:

  • Pictures are easy to navigate and they look fantastic.  Pinterestesque, even.
  • Searching for things is very easy and intuitive to do.
  • There are no advertisements in the search results.
  • It’s difficult to use the tool to search Bing

There is no doubt that Graph Search will increase time on-site (though without advertisments this doesn’t do as much for Facebook’s bottom line).  I love how Graph Search gives users an improved interface and better accessibility to information.  But….

The elephant in the room

Here’s the problem: believe it or not, people don’t Like nearly enough stuff to make Graph Search relevant.  This isn’t an observation unique to me as many people have written the same critique.  For example: I have a diverse group of Facebook friends that hovers somewhere North of 1000.  This is modest by some standards but much bigger than a typical Facebook user.  But when I looked for restaurants and venues in Seattle and Cincinnati, I got very few returns on the Graph Search SERP.  The returns were pretty pathetic, actually.  When I typed in something generic like “hamburger” I got somewhat better results, although I would have gotten a much more satisfying result on Google or Bing.

In order for Graph Search to be successful Facebook needs people to Like a lot more things than they do.  An article on The Motley Fool argues that Graph Search will cause people to Like more stuff, but I have a hard time believing that.  Think about the logic of that reasoning: would a vast majority of Facebook’s billion users radically change their online behavior to benefit the Graph Search experience for their friends?  It sounds like the fallacious argument for (now floundering) Foursquare.  It’s more likely that Facebookers will use the tool as is and disregard it for “long tail” searches.

I suspect that Facebook will have to make Graph Search more useful, independent of its users.  Maybe they would be able to integrate Foursquare check-ins into their social graph (since Foursquare is purportedly preparing to sell).  Or maybe they could integrate their Amazon-like “people who liked this liked that” functionality more prominently.

In any case, Graph Search is a brilliant idea that needs a lot more data to be fully realized.

What do you think?  Have you tried out Graph Search?  What are your impressions?  How do you fare on specific queries?

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Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I aspire to give people something to think about rather than tell them what to do. My favorite Google Alert is "social media research," I am increasingly compelled by Gen Z, and I appreciate good writers agnostic of where they write. At one time I was Kred's 12th most influential social media blogger and Klout's most influential person on the topic of David Hasselhoff. Transplant from Seattle living in Cincinnati. Haven't entirely adopted the local sports teams yet.
Jim Dougherty
Jim Dougherty
Jim Dougherty

Hi Jim, nice article and since I have not been chosen yet to see Graph Search I rely on folks like you and your initial observations. But based on what Graph Search is supposed to be you would think that businesses will come up with great content ideas & ‘nudge’ & provide incentives for their current Fans to share & Like more of their content. As it’s been, the ones with really good content & creativity will be the winners when the dust settles. I am really interested in what will be possible when Facebook makes the API available and how mobile Graph Search will fare. I would imagine pretty well. But we’ll see….

January 27, 2013, 12:44 PM

The problem, as I see it, is that Graph Search is an “internal” search engine that can only work if it stamps on privacy. I haven’t used it yet, but if it is like what we had a couple of years back, it won’t be very efficient.

As a regular user, I am not really interested in finding stuff based on what my friends like. I want more than that. I want to be able to access regular info.

Not sure if I make a lot of sense, here…

January 27, 2013, 7:23 PM
jimdougherty

You make total sense, Cendrine. I think different people will view it different ways. I think you’ll probbaly appreciate the photo layout at least, and understand how Graph Search will keep people on the site longer. I don’t see myself using it too much (because I’m apathetic), but my daughter and I went through all of her baby pictures that had been posted on FB the other night, and spent a lot more time that normal on site. I expect that will be the immediate impact. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I just saw your comment on Sam Fiorello’s blog – you’re omnipresent!

January 27, 2013, 8:31 PM
jimdougherty

Thanks Mark – a great insight: what will businesses do to exploit this?

January 27, 2013, 8:32 PM

Bang on, Jim! You also read my take on Facebook’s Graph Search, which I have been using for the past couple of days. Indeed, it lacks the critical mass of social signals in order to make searches relevant and I also don’t believe people will start “liking” stuff more just to make queries more accurate.

As an internal tool to know what photos I have liked or comments I have made in the past 6 years on Facebook, sure enough. But as a true search engine? Not there yet, and I don’t think it will overtake Google anytime soon.

Cheers,
Frederic

January 27, 2013, 9:55 PM

I see little chance that people will change their habits about using FaceBooks “likes” with or without Graph Search. The whole “like” feature is a personal use issue that FaceBook has little or no control over. And as you point out one of the weaknesses of the idea behind Graph Search is having anything to search to begin with. For without meaningful and numerous likes by large numbers of FaceBook users Graph Search is a feature looking for something to do. So it’s going to be interesting how FaceBook tries to make Graph Search meaningful for most of us users.

January 28, 2013, 12:44 AM

Hi Jim, I agree!! The quality of the search results is based on the information fed in. Of course you will be able to get results from friends of friends of friends but at that stage the results won’t be that reliable. Facebook have a big problem and a huge amount of work to resolve it. How do they get all this information into the platform. Maybe they’ll buy some big information providers or at least have major partnerships. Ian

January 28, 2013, 5:02 AM

I don’t believe this iteration of Graph Search will light the world on fire. But if Facebook iterates appropriately, there is massive potentials. The biggest issue (for me) isn’t the lack of enough likes (although that is an issue). No, it’s a deeper problem.

The core weakness of Graph Search is that I may not like the same things as the people I’m friends with. Facebook has the potential to become the backbone to the semantic web by providing context between all these billions of data points out there in cyber space. Once those labels get more descriptive (really, we haven;t moved beyond LIKE yet?) Facebook will be able to divine what I would REALLY like, based on other things I’ve liked – not purely based on what my friends have liked.

Consider this iteration of Graph Search as the equivalent of having access to every one of your friends music playlists. The future version I hope for is more akin to Pandora making music suggestions for you to consider because this song has a lot of the hallmarks of other songs you’ve also liked. We’re not that far off from this being a real possibility. This is just an interim step. Web 3.0 or the semantic web is coming – and Facebook is the best positioned to make it a reality (but I don’t pretend to know whether that’s a real focus for them).

January 28, 2013, 10:45 AM

I absolutely agree with you, and for once, I am willing to be open-minded about Facebook.

January 28, 2013, 12:43 PM
Tom Whitsed

Businesses will exploit this by trying anything to get as many likes as possible to get a higher Graph Search ranking. I had to laugh at one of your points of good stuff – “There are no advertisements in the search results.” Just wait, that’s how Facebook will exploit Graph Search to advertisers. Facebook won’t be producing anything worth 2¢ unless it can produce a hefty return. BTW – I have NOT tried Graph Search. Why? When there’s so much fanfare announcing a new feature or product I do NOT expect to be directed to a waiting list! Should be able to dive in and use it immediately,

January 29, 2013, 10:10 PM
Sandeep K

Hello Jim

Frankly speaking ..I am very much new to this. I dont have much idea about the graph search.I was wondering if you could help me with this.
I would appreciate if you could direct me to some of the similar place wher i can get some good detail in this regards.

January 30, 2013, 9:07 AM

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