So it’s clear to everyone that the goal of Facebook’s newly-announced “Graph Search” is to keep people on Facebook for even more time and activity, right? Because that’s the gist of everything that I’ve read about it.
Graph Search is meant to provide answers to the questions you have about what you and your friends have in common. The examples given in yesterday’s press conference include queries on what books would be good to read, what movies you might like, who might fit a job opening and more. Search appears to be based on natural language, so a query would be along the lines of “what books do my friends like.” The results then would be based on what they have signaled in one way or the other, with the most common answers from among your network ranking the highest.
All that means Facebook wants to discourage you from going and building profiles and networks on Flixster, Goodreads and other interest-based platforms since then those activities won’t be viewable on Facebook. They want you to not search Yelp for restaurant recommendations and instead ask that question on Facebook.
The problem with this (just one of many, actually) is that it assumes everyone has been, is now and will be using Facebook in exactly the same way. And it assumes that if it doesn’t happen on Facebook then it doesn’t really matter.
My other major issue comes with how Graph Search was framed by Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook team. The comparison was repeatedly made to how this was better than a Google search because instead of returning links that *might* be what you were looking for this shows actual answers to your question, again assuming your Facebook friends are all cataloging every moment of their life there.
But that overlooks a big part of why Google – or Yahoo or Bing or any other web search engine – is superior: By presenting links from across the web search engines throw out a number of possibilities that, either on their own or put together, form the answer being searched for, often with more depth than was expected.
Plus, the comparison between Google and Facebook search is a bit of a false one, meant more to influence stock analysts than anyone else. Who searches Google for book recommendations instead of either asking their social network friends, going to Amazon.com or even going to a local bookstore and doing some browsing? And how useful is a Facebook search for a plumber or other service going to be when your network is so geographically diverse?
The other big issue that Graph Search brings to mind is that it is, as most things Facebook does, dangerous for the open web. If Facebook wants everything to happen within its own walls then it’s keeping people from exploring elsewhere, which leads to less open structures and platforms, which means information is more tightly controlled and actually becomes the opposite of being discoverable. Instead what’s good for the individual becomes subservient to the good of the corporation controlling that information.
Oh, and let’s not forget about ads. While they’re not part of the initial rollout it’s super easy to see how they could be inserted into search results.
All of this is, of course, just my opinion based on the first impressions of Graph Search, which in turn are based on the handful of stories I’ve read about it. But Facebook statement about Bing, which it will use for searches where pointing to the outside web is necessary, being more agreeable on privacy than Google was going to be tells me that Zuckerberg’s unique perspective on what privacy does and doesn’t entail is in full effect here. And that’s rarely a great thing for the web in general.
Some good places to read more about various aspects of yesterday’s announcement:
Introducing Graph Search Beta
Graph Search: Facebook’s Way of Keeping You Inside of Facebook (Video)
Facebook Announces Its Third Pillar “Graph Search” That Gives You Answers, Not Links Like Google
If It’s Not In Graph Search, Facebook Hands Your Query Off To Bing
Zuckerberg Says “I Would Love To Work With Google”, But Bing Was More Flexible On Privacy
How The New Facebook Search Is Different & Unique From Google Search
With Graph Search, Facebook Needs to Go Beyond the “Like”
Facebook Unveils Search Tool That Could Supply Intent Data for Ad Targeting
Facebook Graph Search Puts Spotlight on Sponsored Results
A really tiny explanation of how Facebook’s Graph Search works
Facebook Must Take the Long View of Its Graph Search