Hari Shankar
Jul 26, 2013

Will Facebook Graph Search change search?

Facebook's Graph Search presents interesting possibilities by infusing search with knowledge of what one's friends have liked. Does the new Facebook feature present a threat to Google?

Hari Shankar
Hari Shankar

What imagery does the term “graph search” bring forth in your mind? A tool that searches graphs? Possibly an executive search firm? I wouldn't be surprised to hear any of these potential responses, because the term does not ring the slightest note of familiarity for me either.

But Facebook thinks otherwise. This is evident from the fact that Facebook has brought forth the concepts of Open Graph and Graph Search. Open Graph stands for the ability to create apps that need a Facebook login, with the view of creating extremely immersive and engaging social content within the Facebook world. Graph Search stands for the engine or tool that will enable intelligent, relevant and hopefully useful searches to be conducted within the humongous user-generated content trove generated by Open Graph products. Currently this covers people, places, photos and interests.

Graph Search is designed to provide you a virtual experience based on what your network likes: places they have been to (and liked), music they listened to (and liked), movies they watched (and liked), things they did (and liked), photos they saw (and liked). The experience does not stop with that but is designed to create a cobweb of cross-combinations that in turn give rise to an incredible array of possibilities: friends who worked with you before who are presently in Singapore, restaurants liked by a potential business prospect in Chicago, photos or videos that have been taken of events in a certain place by a certain group of people, friends who have visited certain places and also uploaded photos, and so on.

The possibilities are truly spellbinding and endless. In short, what you are in for is a completely new way of searching pivoted on 'likes'. And when one weaves in layer on layer of filters using the various options available at nodal points such as people, places, events and interests, then it starts taking the proportions and anatomy of a network diagram interconnected by nodes—or a 'graph', if you must.

Although I must admit that I am not a power user of Facebook, I did take Graph Search for a quick spin, and the initial results were heartening, if not impressive in some cases. Especially when it pertains to the food and beverage department, the volume of content that was thrown up armed me with a lot of options to say 'cheers'. But I also consider this not very surprising given that this is where one would naturally expect the content volume and girth to be overwhelming. The same goes for searches pertaining to places/destinations my friends have visited or movies they liked, with further drill-down to the type of places to further refine my searches. I was able to find a bunch of great 'watering holes' that my friends had visited and refine that list down to a further set of preferred options within a certain neighborhood in a large city.

Allow me to jot down a smattering of situations we come across in our daily lives that when confronted with, we generally tend to make a beeline toward that ubiquitous search bar for solace:

  • Stranded in an obscure corner of a new city
  • Urgently searching for an air-con repair man
  • Looking up a DIY fix for my home
  • Looking up the meaning of a particularly complicated word
  • Wondering how to counter the effects of the weekend of binge drinking
  • Searching last minute for driving directions to that urgent client meeting
  • Finding the recipe for that yummy dish you had at your friend’s place

I could go on endlessly with situations like these, but the question that lies at the kernel of my narrative is this: Would you fumble around with the Facebook Graph Search to look for answers? Or would you rather punch your query into the ever-ready Google Now app? Over the last decade, we have been conditioned to be overdependent (for good reasons) on the ubiquitous search bar across screens, apps, devices and browsers. Google Search today is inching slowly and surely toward total personalisation, meaning that search phrases and information may be automatically suggested to you at certain times, days or places depending on the ‘knowledge graph’ that Google has constructed about you.

Will the world that has come to like the highly gratifying 'links' in the search results also like the 'likes'-based result pages that are offered in the Facebook environment? Graph Search is a novel, fresh modus operandi for finding stuff, and may get very popular amongst the 'active users' within the massive Facebook audience base, provided that critical mass is acquired to provide rich results to the plethora of search requirements.

But if you ask me whether Graph Search will shake up the world of search, where Google is the Emperor, I would vigorously nod my head in disagreement. Because I believe it is not meant to, in the first place.

Hari Shankar is director of client services and director of Performics APAC.

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