The last couple of years have been filled with talk of a potential Facebook search
engine — something functionally beyond the internal discovery tool rarely used by
the community. While the recently introduced Graph Search may not be a direct threat
to Google, it could very well be the start of something that challenges its market
dominance. For now, this new concept is one that instantly puts everyone who
publishes something to Facebook on notice.
Fully Grasping the Graph
Facebook’s biggest asset is no doubt the precious mine of user data that advertisers
and even Google lusts after. What Graph Search does is take that user data and turn
it into a searchable database of sorts. Before the update, Facebook’s internal
search feature was largely an afterthought, mainly because of its limitations. This
tool was most useful for finding pages and apps, unlike the functions on Twitter and
LinkedIn that help you find actual users.
With Graph Search, a user can go beyond the pages and apps to find much more
detailed information related to specific users. These details may include articles,
photos, or even places they have “liked” while connected to the network. Facbook is
hyping the new feature as a tool that will create a better experience for the user.
For example, typing in something like “new books” might help a user find reading
suggestions based on the information shared across their friends’ profiles.
Convenient? A little. Unnerving? A whole lot.
Enter the Privacy Debate
If you didn’t think something that probes as deep as Facebook Graph Search would set
of the privacy alarms, then you don’t know the internet community very well. Users
are being warned to watch what they post on the popular social network, and
according to some of the blog comments I’ve been reading, some have called this the
last straw — the act that drove them to delete their account.
According to reports, a British programmer created “Actual Facebook Graph Searches”,
a testing platform designed to highlight how the new feature could at the very
least, put users in some embarrassing situations. In the tests, he revealed how the
update uncovered real names, sexual preferences, and various other personally
identifying information that users might not want to be known on a broad scale.
On the other side of the fence you have the realists who say the privacy buffs are
overreacting once again. These observers believe that this information was more or
less already available on Facebook, and that users need to be more responsible to
begin with. Expect this debate to wage on as the Graph Search feature is continually
rolled out across the platform.
Like I said, Facebook’s Graph Search impacts all parties involved, and that includes
marketers. If you are a brand with a presence on the social platform, it gives
people another way to discover your content. Savvy marketers can position themselves
to take advantage by not only posting more content, but approaching it like another
aspect of SEO. Soon we will be hearing all about companies conducting keyword
research and developing content marketing strategies designed to capitalize on this
interesting new concept.
Graph Search isn’t a discovery engine on the level of Google’s core product, but it
is another one of many signs indicating where search is heading, and that is a path
to deeper social involvement. With the strong belief that social media already
influences rankings, experts are encouraging marketers to make their sites more
social, and create content that gets users to share with the people in their
networks. Now that Facebook, one of the most powerful forces in the web space, has
made another big move on the search front, the activity is likely to pick up
We will surely be hearing more regarding Facebook Graph Search and how it affects
Google, users, marketers, and everyone else as time goes on. The feature is
available in a limited beta testing program, which at the moment, is only available
to users in the U.S. Facebook has put up a page that explains more in detail about
how it works and privacy implications, for those who would like to know more. That
page also allows you to test the feature out and put your name on the waiting list,
which is probably pretty long at this point.
Is Graph Search another way for Facebook to compromise user privacy? Does it pose a
legitimate threat to Google? Share your thoughts in a comment?