The technology press has been frothing for the past 24 hours over how Facebook’s “Graph Search” is going to be a game changer and really start to eat away at Google’s search dominance. But how much of that is hyperbole on a slow news day, and how much will this change people’s habits?
Graph Search is essentially the internal Facebook search that Facebook should have had since day one. It is certainly a powerful tool for searching for people’s interests or finding people with interests and connections to you, but it has a flaw in that it is completely reliant on the data from people’s Facebook profiles. Facebook has long had this data on its users, as people are quick to add their favourite books, films, bands, and more as soon as they sign up – but for some reason up until now this data has been for display purposes only (and for targeting advertisements). This release of the Graph Search is essentially letting people target their queries in the same way that advertisers have been able to target their ads – it is not some huge leap of enlightenment. It is certainly useful, but how useful depends mostly on your friends.
As I said, people are quick to fill out their profiles when they join the service – but when was the last time you went onto Facebook and updated your list of favourite books just as you’ve finished reading in a fit of excitement? You may have written a Facebook post about the book, or written a tweet about it – but you probably haven’t updated those lists of films, bands, and books for a few years. This hugely affects the relevance of the data, which is the reason people are searching in the first place. It would be useful to be able to look for what your friends have just added to their favourite books list as some inspiration of what to read next – but that list is probably a few years old now. Same with music. Same with movies. Same with just about everything that changes quite rapidly. The only things that will remain relevant in these searches in fact will be things like name, sex, religion, and political outlook – and you probably know that about your friends anyway.
Had Facebook released this feature three or four years ago back when it was an exciting new startup and people were all about over-sharing, then it could have formed habits in us all to keep this info up-to-date and be useful. Now, however, people already have their Facebook habits and keeping their likes and dislikes in their profile is not one of them.
Yes, the Graph Search can also search through their friends’ “likes”, but this changes the reasons for “liking” something in the first place – which was to be kept updated with news from that band, group, etc. Facebook has already dismantled that usefulness by attempting to charge these Page owners to reach their own fan base – and if people begin liking pages for their friends to search, that vastly increases the chances that those likes could be more to do with fitting in than expressing their own desires and loves.
What I’m saying, is that Graph Search should have always been a service built into the fabric of Facebook when it was a service that was changing how we interact with the web. People now have their Facebook habits to keep in touch with people, and they have their Googling skills to find information – this hasn’t addressed that divide.