This week, Facebook launched a new search feature called ‘Graph Search,’ that allows users to search for more detailed information across the social network. For many of us that use Facebook, this is a welcome announcement – it’s not news that there has been a lot of frustration with the limitations of the Facebook search tool.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated Graph Search on Tuesday at the company’s headquarters in California. While we don’t know all the details yet, what we do know is that search results are based on the Facebook relationships that you’ve already created. When you type a question into search, you’re directed to people, places or pages that already exist on the network (you can read more about how Graph Search works here and here).
The first question you might ask is, ‘How does this affect us as Facebook users?’ Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at eMarketer, said this feature may actually help users really understand how much information they’ve been sharing. For example, with Graph Search, you can easily find photos of yourself that other people have put up and tagged – and maybe you’ll want to remove the one of, say, yourself in a poorly constructed homemade Iron Man costume. Or you might want to go back and ‘Un-Like’ a few things that you may have changed your mind about a few years down the line. These seemingly small new abilities give way to a larger idea of giving users more control over the content they post and share, even allowing them to change more about their past activity on Facebook.
Perhaps one of the biggest ideas that Graph Search supplements is that of ad targeting and curating information. How many of you use Yelp or Foursquare to decide where you’re going to dinner on a certain night? While you might read recommendations from people that you don’t know, you go with their general opinion anyway. But if you search for a place to eat by using Graph Search, you’re pointed to recommendations from your friends whose opinions you presumably value.
Will this ability to pull in word-of-mouth recommendations, to curate information from the people whose opinions we trust, encroach on the space of tech companies like Yelp or Foursquare? The ad models of those companies depend on location-based data, while Graph Search gives marketers the ability to target their brands based on a person’s social network – they get a custom audience practically handed to them. Graph Search also plays on something that has been hard to capture on Facebook in the past – intent (or, when users search for exactly what they are looking for). The more that people express intent when they search, the better Facebook can offer them something relevant at the moment and in the future.
Will this new function help marketers be even more relevant to their audiences? The combination of intent and social context (or being able to find what your friends like) make it possible for Facebook to offer marketers an even better avenue to getting relevant content in front of consumers.