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Reaction to Facebook's Graph Search announcement - what does it mean for Facebook?


By Stephen Lepitak, -

January 16, 2013 | 6 min read

Last night Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hosted a highly anticipated press event to announcethe creation of its new search engine Graph Search, which aims to search the site for enquiries relating to the users friends and images.

Here is a round-up from some of the reaction that followed the announcement.

Andreas Pouros, COO of digital marketing agency, Greenlight

On the one hand, users will be very happy to get this new functionality that Facebook is calling ‘Graph Search’. It is innovative and powerful, and will allow people to search within Facebook, albeit restricted to what they can see and read right now. It allows the user to search across people, places and interests using structured queries, e.g. ‘Friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter, or more usefully perhaps ‘Which restaurants do my friends like in London’. Ordinarily the user would ask that question by posting it on their wall, now the tools are there to allow the user to just search. Innovative, very cool and the first major addition of functionality Facebook has seen since Timeline.

On the other hand however, Pouros says it is unlikely to be enough to allay investor concerns over Facebook’s commercial focus. Many had expected Facebook would have launched a new mobile phone today or thrown down the gauntlet to Google and challenged the company in Web Search supremacy, neither of which happened. Web Search is a touchy subject as everyone knows that it is a hugely lucrative market, and one Facebook was expected to enter. Graph Search may well be a precursor to that but Pouros fears investors will suspect that it’s too little progress.

And somewhere in the middle, businesses are likely to become more visible within Facebook given that many of these searches will bring up their pages in Graph Search results. However, this may simply offset the reduction in visibility brands have experienced due to Facebook’s Promoted Posts mechanism that has limited the exposure of brand posts on user newsfeeds (where businesses are prompted to pay for their post to reach a wider audience). Also, it is unclear at this stage if or how Facebook will monetise Graph Search.

Ultimately, says Pouros, this is progress, which is welcome, but whether this is good for everyone rests on if and how Facebook chooses to monetise this new mechanism, and to what degree it is a stepping stone to a more aggressive product strategy.

Robin Grant, global managing director and founder of global social media agency, We Are Social

“Graph Search’s immediate impact will be very small - it seems that this is a product that has been built without any reference to user need. At the moment it offers little real utility, and requires a massive change in behaviour for people to start using it. As a result it's likely to flop initially, just like Wolfram|Alpha did on launch.

“Its only real use at the moment is when you want to find out about things about friends of friends, and then use your mutual friend as an introduction - "friends of friends who are single and live in London" or "friends of friends who work in marketing at Google" - which, let's face it, is not that often.

“But, if over time Facebook evolves it beyond the current limits of People, Photos, Places, and Interests, and in turn users warm to it, it could succeed. This would mean that Facebook's sponsored result ads will become more relevant for advertisers, and ultimately it will mean that raw fan numbers will be much more important to brands, as to appear in Graph Search results a brand will need to have a friend of the searcher as a fan.

“It will also make it essential for retailers, or any business with physical locations, to maintain Facebook place pages for each of their branches.

“While Graph Search is currently unlikely to worry Google, if it survives the next few months of scrutiny from the media and Facebook users actually start using it, it could prove a threat in the long term.”

Nate Elliott, analyst for Forrester

"Facebook's worst nightmare is a static social graph; if users aren't adding very many new friends or connections, then their personal network becomes less and less active over time. Terrifyingly for Facebook, that threat is very real: We haven't seen significant growth in the average number of friends per user recently. Graph search seems designed to encourage users to add more friends more quickly. If it means users' personal networks change more frequently, and become more active, then that keeps them coming back to the site - which is vital to Facebook's success."

Larry Kim, founder and CTO of WordStream

“Facebook Graph Search appears to be a great way to search through your stuff, but from an online advertiser or investor perspective, I'm unimpressed. It remains unclear on how advertisers will be able to use this Graph Search product to better market and sell their products to Facebook users. Search can be great for ad targeting because it allows marketers to direct ads about their products and services to the right people at the right time. Unfortunately, the new Facebook Graph Search capabilities are limited to people, locations, photos, and other types of searches that are weak in revealing commercial intent. In typical Facebook fashion, the official Facebook Graph Search announcement does not outline any benefit for its advertisers or investors.”

Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum

"Before the arrival of Facebook's Graph Search, the search function on Facebook was basic and as such, a wasted opportunity given Facebook’s imperative to strengthen advertising revenues. Facebook Graph Search will no doubt leverage member data to provide advertisers with more targeted, personalized advertising opportunities going forward. But Facebook needs tread very carefully here and be mindful of user privacy. It claims to have built Graph Search with privacy in mind, but Facebook has a mixed track record on this front and is in the habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable.

"Facebook Graph Search is not a web search engine, but a search tool designed to enrich the Facebook platform and experience for both users and advertisers. This is sensible as a full blown web search engine from Facebook would inevitably have to compete with Google search, and given Google’s dominance of the search market it would be hard for Facebook to make a serious impact – and win advertising dollars."

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