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Who is Facebook’s Graph Search Competing With?

Who is Facebooks Graph Search Competing With? image graph search logoAfter Facebook’s big revelation that they would be introducing a new and (vastly) improved search function on their site, people are beginning to wonder where this feature could lead for the social giant.

The introduction of the Facebook Graph Search will allow users to search Facebook internally for complex queries such as ‘Music people I went to school with like’ or even ‘photos I liked before 2010’. In fact its possibilities are enormous so check out this article for a full rundown of its functions

It’s an interesting development in terms of really embracing the culture of an ‘internet of things’; a step which Google has been trying to make for a while now but with difficulty. For Facebook it’s not so hard because essentially they have been quietly compiling a social directory for years.

So which companies might be quaking in their boots at the thought of this rolling out? What features of the new Graph Search will be in direct competition with other sites? Let’s take a look:

Places

What’s it all about?

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Something that has gradually become an integral part of the Facebook experience is the ‘places’ element, but with the Graph Search it’s taken to its ultimate end.

To start with, you can search for a place: let’s say Italian restaurants in Brighton. Your results will be skewed in favour of restaurants you and your friends have liked and checked in at but will also favour overall likes, positive reviews, engagement etc.

But that’s not all you can do. You’ll be able to perform multidimensional searches along the lines of ‘Italian Restaurants in Brighton that my family like’. What a great way to pick a restaurant for Mum’s birthday*! (*or not)

Who’s it competing with?

An obvious comparison is with Google places, but this feature is pretty different to that. The niche aspect is the multidimensional, personalised search feature – Google would struggle currently to match those FGSERPs (Facebook Graph Search Engine Results Pages!) because it doesn’t have that kind of data on its users (even with G+ account data its reach in minimal compared to Facebook).

Other potential competitors for this feature are localised review sites like Yelp and check-in site Foursquare. When Facebook initialised the nearby and checking in functions, it was clearly intended to compete with these sites. What the Graph Search will do is reemphasise this intention and improve Facebook’s position.

Realistically, Facebook will have an edge on these sites because it is in possession of an enormous social database that it can use to rank results in order of social importance to the user. That coupled with the uniqueness of being able to search in the terms outlined above could seriously damage Yelp and Foursquare.

In fact, it already has! In the hours after Facebook’s announcement, Yelp’s stock dropped in value by over 6%. An immediate impact of what could prove to be a major player in the local search market.

People

What’s it all about?

A much more detailed, usable and useful version of what Facebook search currently is. The people element of the Graph Search will be a particularly interesting development.

Thanks to the multidimensional search, you’ll be able to get results for queries such as ‘people I went to school with who live nearby’ or as another example, ‘people who work at American Express who also worked at Barclays’. This allows for what is essentially an extended ‘find people’ function – one that lets you set quite specific parameters for who you’re searching for.

It won’t be without its detractors though. The same old questions about privacy will rear their head once again.

Who’s it competing with?

Two biggies really – LinkedIn and job sites, and dating sites.

In terms of job-related searches, it will likely be more useful for employers than employees. If you’re an Italian Restaurant owner looking for an experienced, top-class head chef for example, you could search for ‘Chefs who went to *prestigious* cooking school and worked at *prestigious*London Italian Restaurant.’

This cuts out the whole LinkedIn/job site niche but relies on people updating their profile to really reflect their true work history and experience – something that Facebook has always struggled to enforce.

Who is Facebooks Graph Search Competing With? image Linkedin vs Facebook

In terms of dating, you will/should be able search for something along the lines of ‘Single Women in Brighton under 30 who like going to the theatre’ which could be useful if you’re looking for that kind of thing… obviously.

The trouble is, using Facebook as a dating service might feel a bit strange for many users who also use it to chat to their Aunt in Australia, but then it’s quite in keeping with its ability to turn normal everyday folk into mega-stalkers.

The main difference is that dating sites and job sites keep personal and professional life or personal and love-life separate and therein holds their appeal.

So in terms of providing competition to these two kinds of service sites, the people element of Graph Search will rely on users beginning to embrace Facebook as a true virtual representation of their lives and updating their info accordingly.

Things

What’s it all about?

This is kind of a mix of everything that’s left really and so it can refer to anything from musicians to politicians to TV Programs. Imagine a search along the lines of ‘things that people who like Radiohead like’ or ‘TV Programs that people who like Breaking Bad like’.

In this sense, Facebook becomes a recommendation service, like that of which appears on Amazon – ‘people who bought…also bought…’. The potential ramifications of this could be huge and it is somewhat unlimited, because if anything you ask is beyond the scope of the Graph Search, then an external Bing search will spring up results from the wider web instead.

As mentioned at the start of this piece, it really plays into the movement towards an ‘internet of things’ categorising and semantically linking ‘stuff’ on the web.

Who’s it competing with?

I think we all know the answer to this one! It’s the search engine… Google.

While still as yet not in direct competition on the search front, it’s pretty clear both are moving closer towards each other with every new reveal. Charles Arthur explains this neatly in his article ‘Facebook’s Graph Search v Google+: two icebergs on a collision course’.

An ‘internet of things’ has been the direction Google has been taking for a while but Facebook have really managed to hop into the space that was as yet unfilled. The ability to jump from ‘thing’ to ‘thing’ with the Graph Search, rather than just from page to page is what sets it apart from its rival.

The main drawback at the moment is obviously the solely internal search feature i.e. Facebook’s lack of indexing anything other than their own site (let’s set aside the Bing factor for now), compared with Google and its ‘all the things’ approach.

However, it’s not impossible to imagine the step up from here to at some point indexing the whole web for Facebook and equally it’s not difficult to imagine a Google social search in the near future. As pointed out in Charles Arthur’s article, both are heading in the same direction from very different starting points.

Final Word

Facebook Graph Search is big news – no it’s not a mobile or a web-wide search engine but in terms of the direction the site is heading, it marks a significant point in the company’s history.

Time will only tell if this is the beginning of the war on search with Google or if the two will run in parallel as social and non-social arms of the same beast (history would suggest otherwise!).

Either way, if enough users take it seriously and begin contributing significant data to the network, sites like LinkedIn and Foursquare could be in trouble.

I for one cannot wait to give it a test run – if you’re the same you better sign up for the Beta Test Waiting List now!

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