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January 16, 2013

Expert reaction: Facebook ventures into search

CBR rounds up expert opinions on what Facebook’s new graphic search means for the future of the company and its search engine competitors.

By Tineka Smith

Jonathan Beeston, director of new product innovation at Adobe

Facebook Graph Search is a great use of data and it’ll be interesting to see what people actually search for and how far this takes off – clearly entertainment, local and travel searches will be popular, perhaps retail too. But, it’s hard to imagine people will start looking for mortgages on Facebook. The extent to which Graph Search is used for will dictate what it does for Facebook’s revenues.

It’s interesting that Mark Zuckerberg said he’d "love to work with Google". Although the companies working together would enrich both their sets of results, I just do not see it happening due to Google+. With Google out of the picture this is a great opportunity for Bing as they’re backfilling results.

Marcus Tober, CTO of Searchmetrics

Facebook’s Graph Search is a logical step towards the social network becoming an individual’s (and a corporation’s) go-to social network hub AND search engine. While Graph Search currently only offers people the facility to search content shared by their own social circle, it delivers the highly personalised response that many users are looking for. Social is already a key factor in search – and Graph Search provides Facebook with a new weapon in its fight to increase revenues and potentially even target Google’s search dominance.

This is early days but in the future by combining Graph Search with its partnership and integration with Microsoft’s Bing search engine, Facebook could give users web and social results from a single search – without ever needing to leave Facebook. This could potentially have a huge impact on Google’s core business – and Facebook’s profits.

Philip Dyte, Social Planner, iProspect

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One thing we know is that Graph Search is not a direct competitor to Google, or at least not Google as we currently know it. However, Google’s increasing interest in the area – as represented by flirtations with personalized results, and also Google Now for mobile – means that Facebook may have stolen a march on the next big thing. Palming off traditional web queries to Bing may also prove to be the largest traffic boost the Microsoft engine has ever had, but that’s no reason to think that users will necessarily embrace it any more than they have. After all, Bing has been Facebook’s mapping tool for a while now and has not exactly caused a great migration from Google’s product.

There is some excitement in some quarters about the potential for ad revenue from Graph Search. However, I think some people are rather over-egging it, at least for the time being. Before Graph Search can become a viable commercial product, it needs to be something that has real consumer value. Currently, it is unclear as to how sophisticated the tool really is. It relies very heavily not only on users actively providing information that they do not necessarily always provide – check-in location, employer, reviews – but also the underlying systems that join the dots between multiple, similar-but-different data points.

I suspect that Facebook will rely once again on innovative start-ups and PMDs to jump in and develop the product, in much the same manner as Facebook Apps before. It also represents another incentive for anyone building apps of any description – web, mobile, or Facebook – to incorporate the Open Graph. After all, if Facebook continue to expand its list of ‘custom edges’ – that’s allowing brands to create their own action verbs such as ‘Listened’ or ‘Watched’, to sit alongside ‘Like’ – then presumably that will feed into Graph Search too. So if I am building an app around cooking, I code in the customedge ‘Cooked’, and then my app and/or brand might show up in the hypothetical search: [My friends] in [London] who [cooked] in [the last year].

Whatever happens, it’s another big push from Facebook into using Big Data to personalize the life digital. Given that Facebook’s long-term ambition, especially in developing markets, is to be your passport for the web, this makes a lot ofsense. At this rate, the Facebook of the future may soon start to challenge the definition of what a social network actually is.

Ernest Doku, Telecoms expert at

Facebook is a bottomless pit of constantly-updated user information – and knowledge is power.

Facebook is more than a social network – it’s a colossal data resource, and its global omniscience should be enough to make even search giant Google quake in its massive boots. Fortunately for Google, Graph Search isn’t designed to take on web search. It’s a personal, user-friendly and, we are told, ‘privacy aware’, way to answer queries and track people down more easily. And Facebook must prioritise security above all else, or risk alienating or losing users.

In terms of the evolution of Facebook, this feels like the logical next step. And for connection purposes, be that friendship or dating, it is useful and intuitive. But it’s only as reliable and useful as the tags people use. Most of us don’t regularly update our favourite films lists on Facebook, for example.Because the extent of Graph Search is limited by security settings, it will probably result in users finding that responses to their queries are not as useful as hoped. This is particularly true for the clued-up younger Facebook generation, many of whom have tight security settings on their profiles."

Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum

Facebook Graph Search is not a web search engine, but a search tool designed to enrich the Facebook platform and experience for both users and advertisers," said Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum. "This is sensible as a full blown web search engine from Facebook would inevitably have to compete with Google search, and given Google’s dominance of the search market it would be hard for Facebook to make a serious impact – and win advertising dollars.

Before the arrival of Facebook’s Graph Search, the search function on Facebook was basic and as such, a wasted opportunity given Facebook’s imperative to strengthen advertising revenues. Facebook Graph Search will no doubt leverage member data to provide advertisers with more targeted, personalized advertising opportunities going forward. But Facebook needs tread very carefully here and be mindful of user privacy. It claims to have built Graph Search with privacy in mind, but Facebook has a mixed track record on this front and is in the habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable.

Victor Basta, managing director of Magister Advisors

People are completely missing the importance of this announcement. It positions Facebook as a much more significant strategic threat to Google than it has been to date. Facebook has effectively rolled Amazon, TripAdvisor and tribal search engine capabilities into the ecosystem in one fell swoop.

This is far more important for Facebook’s mobile strategy than simply doing a Facebook phone. Graph Search will be key to generating revenues from Facebook’s hundreds of millions of mobile users through super-value, highly targeted search. To date it has been very difficult to serve up advertising on a small screen. Search is really the only way to do it.

Graph Search potentially sets up Facebook to generate the billions of dollars of revenues that it needs to achieve to underpin its valuation. Google gets more than 90 percent of its revenues from advertising and search drives advertising, so this is really the only way that Facebook can take revenues from Google.

People are saying Facebook has reached a saturation point with users, but they’re missing the point. This is all about generating revenues from existing users. The ramifications of today’s announcement for Facebook and its competitors are very significant indeed and will be felt for years to come.

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