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Facebook Graph Search: Peering through the Press.

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Epiphany Search

As you will no doubt be aware, the largest social media platform on the planet has announced the latest addition to its digital ecosystem.

Facebook will be rolling out Graph Search over the coming weeks to its one billion users. It is currently being marketed as their biggest update since the introduction of the News Feed and, alongside Timeline, will be one of the main supporting pillars of the site.

There has been a large amount of speculation about the implications that this latest addition brings,  as sectors of the news and technology media have begun evaluating Graph Search. Portions of the press have indicated an assumption that Zuckerberg et al are gearing up to take on Google as a potential future search engine rival, and say we should expect war.

VentureBeat’s John Koetsier has hyped the announcement as the first markers of a war to come in his interview with Chris Winfield of BlueGlass Interactive. If one looks literally at the comments made, users of the internet will eventually be caught in a Search Wars distantly being battled out by two giants of the Information Age.

By contrast, Fortune’s Miguel Helft was far more cautious about the announcement, yet still evaluated Graph Search in terms of Facebook vs. Google, commenting ‘this battle has been a long time coming.’

Looking at this latest announcement as a collision of two Silicon Valley goliaths feels like an over simplification. However, it is a simplification that makes sense when considering the significant interest in technology wars. Apple famously challenged IBM in 1984, the 1990s saw the Console Wars heat up as Nintendo took on Sega and every single decade there is at least one format war, more recently HD DVD vs. Blu-ray.

Another assessment of Graph Search places the feature as a means for Facebook to lock its users in and encourage them to increase their activity levels. Essentially, Graph Search works by indexing the data that the public provide about themselves. Therefore, in order to get the best user experience, there would need to be investment of significant amounts of information.

Josh Halliday suggests Search Graph being the means to halt user decline that Facebook desperately seeks after its calamitous floatation on the stock exchange and the loss of 600,000 accounts since the billion user mark was reached.

However, the announcement of Search Graph seems to have worked against the company as Facebook’s stock price took an unexpected drop below $30 – representing a 3% depreciation of its company value.  The Week analyses this as Facebook’s failure to inspire its investors and users by failing to live up to the hype generated by the pre-launch mystery.

Ultimately, Facebook needs to consolidate itself as a business. Its success was unprecedented from such a small start-up with virtually no capital, so Zuckerberg needs to ensure that his brainchild doesn’t stagnate and become a victim of its own success.

From a business development perspective, Facebook adding a search feature should have been expected; if Google can make its own social network, Facebook can surely create its own search function. At the same time, Google+ hasn’t been the resounding success its launch hype predicted. I’ll let you be the judge of whether its possible that Facebook can successfully doing the same trick in reverse and beating Google at their own game.

It’s an interesting development for Facebook from a brand point of view, as the excitement produced by the build-up to the launch was reminiscent of the product launches Apple have seen in the past. In the launch itself, it became evident that Zuckerberg wished to emulate the kudos and media frenzy that the late Steve Jobs was able to enjoy.

Most evidently, the marketing style seemed to borrow closely from Apple’s formulas – particular the product launch video featuring Zuckerberg et al exalting the benefits of Search Graph.

Like Apple product launches, the news media seem to have fallen victim here to the huge interest. Facebook announcements are important considering the impact their changes have on their users. From the press perspective, there is a genuine public interest in the user privacy issues as there is such a large percentage of the worldwide population using this one social network.

Year on year, privacy has proved to be hugely polemic as the public responds warmly to new features but taken issue with the need to hand over even more private information; the introduction of Facebook Timeline is an example of this. If Facebook encounters another controversy regarding privacy, it seriously risks alienating more users and a further exodus from the site.

At Epiphany we have an enormous interest in all things that involves search, naturally. When Facebook made the announcement on Tuesday, it was one of the top topics of conversation. However, we also think it is important to take caution about making any assumptions on what Facebook Graph Search may achieve.

The impact of this latest Facebook feature is yet to be known and at this point no one can even guess how long people will be talking about it. A large number of Epiphanites have already signed up for the beta, so we’ll be looking with interest at how this new feature changes our way of looking at Facebook. Until the results are real and tangible, one should adopt the old traditional journalistic attitude of healthy scepticism. Someone has to, as the press seem to have forgotten.