Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some thoughts on Facebook Graph Search Beta, announced at a press conference at Facebook HQ this morning.
What it is: A much-needed and long-requested feature that enables Facebook users to create custom views of people by interest and relationship.
What it does: Enables you to use your social graph in new and useful ways: to find restaurants that friends have liked in a specific location, friends who like a specific musician, photos of people from a specific location, people who liked a specific company or political candidate, books CEOs read, movies my friends like, and so on. The lack of rich search capability has long been a criticism of Facebook, and it’s good to see the company improve the experience in a way that lets people see more of the value in their social graph.
As my colleague Jeremiah Owyang said to Facebook in December, “Search is Facebook’s tailbone.” Why? Because, as he said, “you guys are sitting on it, and it’s not doing anything.” Probably best not to take that metaphor any further, but suffice it to say this announcement means it’s no longer accurate.
What it doesn’t have (yet?): Mobile access. Global languages. It’s English-only, Web only (for now). No API, so you can’t extract the data and do anything with it. There is no clean and easy way to save searches into a group, for example, but you can go to your activity log and view the search there. It’s early days yet.
What about privacy? Facebook Graph search abides by all existing privacy controls. So if you don’t share content with friends of friends, they won’t see it. And you can only see content in search that you would normally see on someone’s page. Photos will only show in search if the person is tagged.
Implications for individuals and brands: Facebook is actively trying to deliver more value from your social graph. For individuals, this is very useful, and significantly cuts the noise that Facebook (with 1B monthly active users) has suffered from. If you’re a brand (hoping to identify people with specific likes and relationships), it’s extremely promising, but prepare yourself for delayed gratification. Right now, you can only search as a person, not a brand, so if you are admin of a brand page (say, Oreo or Toyota), you only see content consistent with your personal graph.
What it means to the market: This announcement sends a few signals. One is clearly that the company is serious about search, which opens up a new avenue for revenue generation. Secondly, for Facebook watchers, the company hasn’t changed the way it announces products. It’s still an agile development company. Many, like Graph Search, are early indications of what could be to come, and Facebook will be keen to see what people do with it. I do wish that Facebook had put more thought into the brand experience, but also suspect that, as per usual, the company would want to see how search would be received before putting more control into brands’ hands.
Where it could go: Eventually, with mobile access, an API and the ability for brands to do some very targeted data mining (again, only of publicly-shared information), Facebook Graph Search could provide a more appealing and relevant way for the company to monetize its best asset, enabling users to derive more value from the platform, thereby visiting more often, staying longer, making more connections, sharing more. Brands, of course, will love this, as it will offer countless opportunities for personalized, relevant and potentially even real-time offers. But we’ll need to see the company get a few more critical ducks in a row before that happens.
Last word: Public Facebook is still very much the same company as pre-IPO Facebook. As Charlene Li, Rebecca Lieb and I said in a post leading up to the IPO, “…the company sent a strong signal in its last quarterly statement that it will continue to make investments for long-term growth, even at the cost of short-term profits. It’s setting expectations that it’s investing for the future, not just for the quarter.”
For more about Facebook Graph Search, see the Facebook blog post here.