I have not exactly been a Facebook fanboy over the years. That may well have changed yesterday with the announcement of Facebook’s Graph Search, which seems to address two of my fundamental concerns with the world’s most popular online site.
First, until yesterday, I saw no compelling reason why people needed to stay at Facebook. We are there because our friends are there. We are there because we can get deals by liking a brand. We are there because it is the state of social networking today. These are not such compelling, defensible and sustainable features that they ensure we will not wander off.
Second, Facebook is a walled garden. It is a closed social network in a universe designed to be open. History has not been kind to closed systems and I have felt Facebook needed to open up or eventually people would just wander away as other amusements, innovations and marketing platforms popped up elsewhere.
The social graph has existed for some time, and it has made Facebook more knowledgeable about who we talk to and what we like than any other organization in history. But until yesterday, the social graph seemed more beneficial to marketers than to people.
Graph Search certainly benefits organizations, but it also has unique, valuable and sustainable advantage to the hundreds of millions of people using Facebook. Unlike what we do at Google, we can find people, places, photos and interests based on who we talk to on Facebook. This seems to me to be a better way to search for many things than the way Google does it.
More than that, Facebook knows more about our relationships today than anyone, while Google knows more about what we are looking for. The latter is valuable, but it seems to me less so than the former.
In yesterday’s announcement, Zuckerburg insisted Graph Search was inwardly focused; that it would not be competing with Google. I think in the short term that is the case, but over time Graph Search will show itself as a competitive threat to Google, LinkedIn, Match.com, Expedia, Amazon.com and anywhere else we go looking for people, leisure activities or information.
If I understand Graph Search right, then it really has no other way to go.
That would explain the partnership with Microsoft Bing. Bing is often overlooked because it has garnered less than 10 percent of the existing search market. Small as it may seem, it’s enough to redirect more than a billion advertising dollars a year, according to multiple sources, from Google’s cash register into Microsoft’s.
Bing may also be the road out of the Facebook walled garden. Bing, of course, crawls the entire web. Most users find search results to be as good as what they get from Google, but the photos are superb. In mobile apps, Bing is a visually wonderful search platform.
But if Graph Search is just about crawling Facebook, why does it need Bing? My guess is Facebook’s strategy will be to remove the walls of its garden slowly over time and give users results from all the sources on the worldwide web. As the biggest node of all the nodes in the Internet universe, Graph Search is at once extremely useful and valuable; as an open system using Bing to crawl the rest of the web, it will compete with just about everything and everywhere you search today, from Google and LinkedIn to Match.com, to books at Amazon.com and just about everywhere else.
This may not happen soon. It’s only my speculation, but it feels to me the door has finally been left open a crack.
As for me, I’m like just about everyone else that has been talking about this significant slice of news. I just can’t wait to start playing with my Graph Search. I expect I will be using Facebook more, not less, in the coming weeks, months and years.