Executive Summary1 billion people use Facebook. They’ve shared 240 billion photos and 1 trillion connections.Facebook announced a new feature called Graph Search, which will make it easier for usersto navigate this social graph of connections – answering queries with social context such as“restaurants near me that my friends like.”This POV explains what Graph Search is, how it works, and what it means for the future ofFacebook.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Updated Navigation Bar DesignGraph Search replaces Facebook’s traditional blue-top navigation bar with a larger livesearch field. It appears prominently across all parts of the desktop Facebook experience.This interface update will encourage users to make use of Graph Search, beckoning forthem to search wherever they are during a Facebook browsing session.
Natural Language Processing Makes Searching SimpleBy design, Graph Search is rather intuitive. You pull it up and begin typing a questionusing natural language.
Graph Search Fills in the BlanksAs you type, it assists you in forming a query by pulling up a range of potential searchoptions on-the-fly.
Personalization and PrivacyGraph Search is privacy aware, meaning that it respects each user’s existing privacysettings. While Facebook will always have its critics, this implementation appears to bevery well thought out from a privacy standpoint.
The Difference: Facebook Search is Actually UsefulAt first glance, Graph Search could be perceived as a very minor feature change.However comparing it to the old Facebook search bar illustrates how much potential ithas to make search a worthwhile part of the Facebook experience. The old search The new Graph Search:
WHAT CAN I SEARCH FOR?
Initial Search Categories: People, Photos, Places and InterestsGraph Search is a beta product. The beta version allows users to search for people,photos, places, and interests, with plans to make other aspects of Facebook – such asstatus updates and shared links – searchable in the future.In describing use cases during a product demo, Mark Zuckerberg noted that “this iswhere I want to emphasize how early we are in Graph Search.”
Search for PeoplePeople-centric searches can be used to discover more about the friends you already have.This type of search also makes it easier to identify potential connections for networkingpurposes, such as people who are friends of your friends and work at a specific company.
Search for PhotosPhoto search simplifies the process of finding an old photo that was previously buried inan album on a friend’s Timeline.It can also be used to discover and instantly organize new photos from a specific placeor time period – such as “Photos of my friends in New York.”
Search for PlacesWhen we travel to a new city – or even a new neighborhood – we often ask friends wholive there for restaurant recommendations.Graph Search builds on this habit by identifying and sorting Places that friends havebeen to. This feature will be especially compelling when it becomes available on mobilein the future.
Search by InterestsGraph Search makes it possible to conduct Interest-based queries such as which“languages my friends speak,” or “favorite television shows of my friends.”
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OFGRAPH SEARCH?
Facebook Has Become UbiquitousOver the past half-decade, Facebook has become almost universal – countingapproximately half of the entire U.S. population as active users.
Facebook is so Universal that it is at Risk of StagnationThis widespread success brings forth a unique risk – that Facebook could become souniversal that it loses its appeal.Writing for The Verge, journalist Ellis Hamburger sums this up perfectly: “There’s no numerical evidence that Facebook has ‘lost its cool,’ but you can feel it. You hear people talking about it. Instead of seeing Facebook blue illuminating the phones of fellow subway and bus riders, you see Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter. Facebook has become a normal thing — a ’social utility’ everyone uses but few are excited about.”
Graph Search will Help Keep Facebook CompellingIf Facebook began to lose its appeal, users would very slowly begin to input less datainto it. And without a continued flow of social data – in the form of Likes, PhotoUploads, Location tags and other signals – the whole network would decline in valueand utility. Users wouldn’t leave Facebook altogether under such conditions; howeverthey would return less frequently.But Facebook is too smart to let the flow of data stagnate, and Graph Search plays asignificant role in keeping users engaged.Once people begin using Graph Search, they will have a stronger incentive to fill outtheir profiles more fully, check in to more restaurants when they’re out, and uploadmore photos with accurate location tags. All of these actions feed higher volumes ofbetter data into the system, making Facebook a much more compelling place to comeback to again and again.
Timing: Facebook is Playing the Long GameGraph Search is being rolled out slowly and carefully, with the beta versionlaunching to the public “over the next few weeks and months,” according to thecompany. Note: in this context, “tomorrow” means “in the future”
IMPLICATIONS FOR BRANDS
The Hope: That Graph Search Brings us Closer to Intent DataIf I am considering buying a Hyundai, I may turn to Facebook to search for friends wholike Hyundai, photos of friends cars, or even car dealerships my friends have been to. Imay even eventually be able to search for more complex queries such as cars myfriends own or cars my friends are satisfied with.In this case, Hyundai and competing automakers would ideally be able to identify andcapitalize on my intent to purchase by surfacing a test drive offer or a sponsored photoof their newest model. Facebook is not offering any new ad products alongside the betalaunch of Graph Search, so this sequence is – for the time being – a hypothetical.However if Graph Search gains traction, we anticipate the eventual launch of tools forbrands and organizations to capitalize on the purchase intent expressed through GraphSearches.
The Reality: Wait for Initial Rollout Before Taking ActionIt can be tempting to predict what Graph Search will mean for brands andorganizations; however doing so is premature at this time.Currently, Graph Search is being used exclusively by a small contingent of Facebookemployees and reporters. Full comprehension of the implications for brandsrequires observation of how normal people – outside of hyper-connected Facebookinsiders – use the product.Once Graph search is released to the public in the coming weeks, NMS will bepublishing a follow-up POV with actionable guidance for brands and organizations.