Facebook Steps Up Search with Graph

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This post first appeared on the Upriver Solutions blog.

The social rumor mill was on high alert the past twenty­-four hours (Upriver was no exception), as the tech world prepared to learn about Facebook’s Next. Big. Thing. And, despite the whooshing sound as bloggers grasped at the straw of a frequently discussed Facebook phone, Facebook did not yet enter the telecom hardware arena. Instead, it took a much safer and more useful step into the world of search with its new Graph Search feature.

Graph Search explores photos, people, places, and interests on Facebook using “natural” search language—e.g., “restaurants my friends like near me”—offering users an additional “pillar” to the existing newsfeed and timeline.

Facebook published a demo page of Graph Search to users at the conclusion of the event, which features a promotional video, a behind-­the­-scenes look at building Graph Search, an info page on Graph Search privacy, and an invitation to sign up to receive more info about the beta release of Graph Search. The page also has a “Try a Search” button, which gives a sample of Graph Search results based on current issue shared with the user on Facebook.

Immediately after the announcement, Yelp’s stock dipped around 8.5%. Much of the Yelp service’s activity comes from users’ searching for customer reviews. And, while a Yelp review may be more detailed than the a Facebook “like” by one of your friends, Yelp investors are understandably concerned about the bite that Graph Search might take out of Yelp’s user base.

However, Facebook isn’t the only company that hopes to benefit from Graph Search. It’s partnering with Microsoft’s Bing search service to provide web search results if there are no results on the Facebook search. During the Q&A at the end of the day’s announcement, Mark Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook had considered working with Google. He replied (as quoted by Engadget’s liveblog of the event), “We would love to work with Google. We just wanted to incorporate search, and as long as the companies are willing to honor the privacy of folks sharing content on Facebook, we’ll work with them. We just haven’t gotten it worked out with Google yet.”

“Privacy” seemed to be the word of the day, as it came up many times during the Facebook event. Facebook has run into some issues in the past with shooting at privacy first and asking questions later, so they’ve taken early steps to publicize the privacy elements of Graph Search.

As a side note about the Google Phone, Zuckerberg made his thoughts pretty clear back in September: ”It is so clearly the wrong strategy for us ... It doesn’t move the needle for us.” Of course, there were plenty of iPhone denials before that device made its debut, too.

Still, you have to love the concept of only going after ideas that “move the needle.” Apparently, Graph Search does that for the folks at Facebook.