Graph Search: More Searching Social than Social Search

Posted on by

Getting search in your social

Facebook is finally bringing social search. Or more accurately, adding search to social. Facebook has actually been providing a social layer to search for a while now, with both Bing and Blekko using Facebook information to help curate their results for signed in users. Facebook’s Graph Search is different. From the information available to date, it seems to be far more about adding search to their users’ social experience.

The initial rollout will be very limited, with Facebook saying that it will only cover the following areas at first:

People: “friends who live in my city,” “people from my hometown who like hiking,” “friends of friends who have been to Yosemite National Park,” “software engineers who live in San Francisco and like skiing,” “people who like things I like,” “people who like tennis and live nearby”

Photos: “photos I like,” “photos of my family,” “photos of my friends before 1999,” “photos of my friends taken in New York,” “photos of the Eiffel Tower”

Places: “restaurants in San Francisco,” “cities visited by my family,” “Indian restaurants liked by my friends from India,” “tourist attractions in Italy visited by my friends,” “restaurants in New York liked by chefs,” “countries my friends have visited”

Interests: “music my friends like,” “movies liked by people who like movies I like,” “languages my friends speak,” “strategy games played by friends of my friends,” “movies liked by people who are film directors,” “books read by CEOs”

As it is only in limited beta, there isn’t much discussion about its ability to handle natural language queries or what kind of information is available. But there is one other interesting thing to come from today’s announcement: Bing’s involvement.

Bing and Facebook

On their own blog shortly after the announcement from Facebook, Bing outlined how they were involved in “Evolving Search on Facebook”. Bing has worked with Facebook since 2008, starting by powering their web search, with AdCentre placing ads next to the organic results. Since then, their relationship appears to have worked, with Bing continuing to provide search while Facebook took over the ads in 2010 and also hinted at bringing public data from Facebook’s API into their own search experience in October 2009. Far more recently Facebook data has been integrated into Bing’s search results.

Putting the Value into the Search in Social

If all the rage surrounding Facebook’s attempts to find the perfect way to handle EdgeRank is to be believed, they have a real discoverability problem. The news feed works just fine for some light social stalking, and with their existing search features all but broken, it is almost impossible to unearth the kind of information that Facebook seems to want to target with Graph Search, and somehow advertise against.

Graph Search should fix discoverability and provide more navigation tools to their users, allowing Facebook to turn one of the world’s larger collections of user information into something both engaging and useful. Or at least as engaging and useful as the quality of the information it has collected would allow.

Seen from a data perspective, the acquisition of Instagram and Facebook’s integration services such as Spotify make a lot of sense. While Facebook is far more device-agnostic than it used to be, it still does not completely own its users’ online life. Providing a platform and social integration for services such as Spotify and outright buying others like Instagram extends Facebook’s ability to collect information on its users’ behaviour beyond its own touch points.

Why this Matters?

Ultimately Facebook needs impressions. Facebook’s main source of revenue is advertising, from banners to sponsored stories. These ads lose value and more importantly traffic when there is no-one there to look at them. To ensure that there are enough eyeballs to go around for the advertising inventory that Facebook needs to sell to keep the shareholders happy and the servers running, their users need to be kept on the site. And this is where engaging, sticky content comes in. Despite the Internet’s love of a false dichotomy, Graph Search does not need to be about beating Google in search. It merely needs to improve Facebook for its users, so they can help Facebook meet its business objectives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *