What is Facebook's Graph Search?
A couple of weeks ago Facebook announced the latest addition to its list of features. It's called Graph Search, and it's basically Facebook's crack at being Google.
What is Graph Search?
In short, Graph Search is a way of searching for information based on Facebook's users and the information that they have made publicly available – their recommendations, stuff they've read, listened to, 'liked', etc, etc.
Facebook are marketing Graph Search as having three key functions at launch: Finding people who share similar interests, exploring your world through photos and discovering restaurants, music and more.
Jon Thomas at postadvertising.com says, "what Google is to the web, Graph Search is to your social network on Facebook".
It's taking the premise of Google Search and assuming that people would rather decide their next holiday destination, retail purchase or night out based on the recommendation of their Facebook connections than anything Google's complex series of algorithms can come up with.
It's a way of getting word-of-mouth advice without having to ask an actual person. And content shared by Facebook pages, places, groups, apps and games all also factor into search results. Graph Search is effectively positioning itself to become the ultimate in social curation of content (the idea of a flow of information that is 'curated' by your social contacts and therefore in some way relevant to you).
So, Graph Search must be providing results users can trust, right? Well, that's the idea, but only time will tell if Facebook's impressive collection of user-provided data will result in better, ahem, results.
And if you were wondering about the name, it's based on Facebook's Open Graph, the feature that shares your social networking information with the rest of the world.
What it means for the world of search
Facebook has always been willing to 'borrow' the most successful elements from its competitors. There's nothing particularly original or exciting about Facebook's chat or news feed functions. It's just that they're there, when and where you want them.
It's only natural that people would rather use Facebook chat (which accesses their Facebook friends list and allows them to continue trawling through their news feed) than an external, interruptive option like MSN Messenger.
It's fair to assume that it's this mentality that has prompted Zuckerberg and the team at Facebook HQ to implement Graph Search and – whether intentionally or not – take aim at Google.
But while your searches on Google might be restricted to one word (cycling) or a short phrase (cycling in Sydney), Graph Search encourages you to take advantage of Facebook's burgeoning supply of data and inject some humanity into your searches and try something like 'people who like cycling in Sydney'.
Graph Search's approach adds context to searching and has the capacity to bring people closer together and allow users to make informed decisions based on the 'trustworthy' likes of their friends (and friends of friends).
But already we're seeing ways of exploiting the trove of information at Facebook's disposal to run searches through Graph Search that, while hilarious, could have serious consequences for job seekers, naïve employees and even giant corporations.
Here are a collection of humorous/embarrassing searches thrown up by just one commentator so far.
All very amusing, but could the ramifications of a simple search be more serious?
Gizmodo's Luke Hopewell describes Graph Search as "simultaneously the most intuitive and terrifying search platform" he's ever used.
"A far more concerning facet of Facebook Graph Search, however, is its potential as a stalking tool.
Make no mistake: Facebook Graph Search is creepy. For years people have been worried about the information they have given Facebook, what's kept, what's deleted and what can be displayed to other users. The age of the overshare is coming to a close, but we're about to live with the ramifications for a very, very long time."
Never before has it been so easy to access the personal details of complete strangers. Could Graph Search become the stalker's ultimate resource?
But it's not all bad. Graph Search has the potential to be used by recruiters to find the perfect candidate for a job, make businesses more discoverable and ultimately transform the paradigms that have dominated 'Searching' for the last decade.
What it means for the wider internet experience
While some of the planet's most prominent web companies have occasionally stepped into Facebook's territory (iTunes Ping and Google+), none have made the Palo Alto giant so much as sneeze.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has always had the uncanny ability to succeed and with Graph Search the world might finally have a Google killer (sorry!), or at the very least a serious alternative.
While only time will tell if Facebook has what it takes to topple the search giant, one thing is certain: Graph Search will alter the way people (and search engines) think about search.
More to the point though, Graph Search is the latest brick in the walled garden that Facebook is fast becoming. As more features join the already substantial list Facebook offers (everything from e-commerce to chat, and now search) we edge a little closer to a reality in which, for large portions of the online population, the entire experience of the internet could realistically be contained within the Facebook ecosystem. Whether this will result in a unified utopia or a mundane monopoly remains to be seen.
Why not try Graph Search for yourself? You can sign up for the waiting list now.
Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.