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Facebook takes on Search with Social Graph

2012 wasn’t the best year for the social network site Facebook. Between the umpteen privacy issues, Instagram backlash and the IPO debacle, there wasn’t a lot of positive news to be reported. Today however, if you held onto your shares (that you were kicking yourself for getting in the first place), it appears that Facebook’s stock has almost reached previous IPO evaluation heights ($30.10). Now the company have announced their long suspected push into search, with a new feature called Graph Search (Facebook marketing team must have been out for lunch when they came up with the name).

Graph Search is all about making your search personalised – so that your results are based on your Facebook interaction rather than typical Google search algorithms. What you and your network of friends like will effect the results. You’ll also be able to find the ‘most liked’ say, local clothing store. The feature will also ‘lightly’ incorporate Bing searches and Bing paid for ads.

Three major concerns about this are:

Firstly, privacy. Yes, that issue again. Examples of search queries Facebook gave included, “People namedChris who are friends of Lars and went to Stanford”. Drastically reducing stalking search time on Facebook… so that’s um, everyone’s time on Facebook then, yes? What also isn’t clear is whether Facebook plan to base this entirely on ‘likes’ or is linguistics to play a role in the future? Will search results on say, ‘People who like the movie Sharktopus’, ultimately be based on pages I ‘like’ or, on my use of positive words surrounding my numbers of mentions of the word ‘Sharktopus’ (I may have watched Sharktopus last night and am struggling to find a good neutral example). Personally, I highly doubt that they would be dumb enough not to explore the using linguistics to answer search queries… but what does this mean for privacy? Check out this article on The Guardian for an interesting angle as to how we may be able to gain insight into people in the near future. Let’s not even get into image searching.

Sharktopus

Secondly, we come to a serious issue for brands which will require an important shift perception of the value of the ‘like’ again. I looked back on some of my own ‘likes’. Many of those ‘likes’ were based on Facebook competitions. Take for example The Rustic Stone restaurant. It’s a very popular restaurant with a great menu, reasonably priced and nice staff. Well, so I hear. The reason I ‘liked‘ it was because despite living in the area for a few years, it’s one of the few restaurants I still haven’t visited… so I’m keeping an eye on their news feed for a tempting deal running the same day we fancy eating out, which has a strong likelyhood of influencing my choice of restaurant. Would I recommend it to my friends right now? No. I can’t. I haven’t been. However with Social Graph, my likes are taken as an endorsement.

RusticStone

Finally, do I care what my Facebook friends think? Do I really want to find a new band or movie based on my friends ‘likes’? I currently have 323 friends – over half of whom I know from college or school (12 of whom I’d say I’m actually still ‘real life’ friends with) and exactly 186 of whom either I don’t recall meeting, have questionable taste or simply, reallyirritate me. And yes, that’s after a recent ‘Facebook cull’. That leaves around 15 people who I’d be interested in getting recommendations from and around 35 people outside of this circle who’s recommendations I’d tolerate. 50 people. Hmm… that’s interesting, when you consider studies about the ideal number of friends. Now consider if I do what the Facebook explanatory video suggests and search for ‘a good dentist’. The list of dentist candidates will firstly, all have to have a Facebook presence. Secondly, those 15 close friends – in whom’s advice I trust – are all going to have to have ‘liked’ their dentist on Facebook. And even if they all do exactly that, I’m still left in a serious conundrum – if they are the type of people that ‘like’ their dentist on Facebook, should I really be friends with them?! On a more broader point too, does doing what my friends do, liking what my friends like and experiencing what my friends enjoyed, may indeed “make the world a little bit smaller.”… but will it make it more interesting?

Two elements I did like out of Social Graph was 1) the idea of being able to search friends that live in a certain country – so you can catch up when you visit. A good feature, which could lead to some very interesting stats on where we’ve all ended up. I’m coining this one the Diaspora Detector and imagine it will be a highly popular search here in Ireland. 2) Finding friends of friends with similar interests. Serious technicality issues aside, this one may actually open peoples world up a little. Next up, Facebook dating search?

To learn more about Social Graph and sign up for Beta, click here.

P.s. To the Facebook engineer who, in the video, said: “If you do a search for yunno ‘apple’ and I do a search for ‘apple’ we’re basically going to get the same results. Um, maybe like I’ll get slightly more technical results based on Apple computer and you might care about the fruit a little bit more but they’re not that different from each other”.
Yes they are. They are completely different things!

Picture 1 from Michael Kreil on Flickr Creative Commons.