When you find what you’re looking for online, many of us feel a small surge of happiness. Facebook might describe it as a “like.”
The social media giant’s launch of Graph Search on Tuesday may be seen as a way of preventing all those pictures, status updates and other content we upload from becoming as disorganized as the shoe boxes where we once kept our old photos and love letters in a pre-digital era. Unlike searching on the Web, the idea here is to bring up actual results. Use Graph Search to locate a person, for example, and you’ll see Facebook content about that person (as long as it’s been shared with you) rather than the dozen blue links to other sites you might get back via Google.
For Maggie Fox, president of Toronto-based Social Media Group, the notion of more contextual, intuitive means for sifting through Facebook content makes a lot of sense.
“It feels really geared to how people use the platform, which is increasingly mobile,” she said.
This is an important point. Google, among others, has been criticized for failing to deliver an exceptional mobile search experience. Meanwhile, services like Yelp allow users to track down information about local businesses, while Apple’s Siri technology on the iPhone allows for more voice-activated search. As consumers increasingly seek out more information while on the move, Facebook Graph Search will need to keep up.
On the other hand, the average Facebook user may also need to develop new skills in search in order to use such services effectively. In the press conferencing announcing Graph Search, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team suggested that entering simple keywords may not be effective in delivering the kind of results that people expect. Instead, we may have to start using actual sentences to make our queries, treating Facebook less like a piece of software and more . . . well, like a friend.
“The way we search will absolutely change, based on the platform, based on the usage,” said Fox. “When you look at the types of data on Facebook, you’re searching for a human, an incident, a moment in time as opposed to text.”
As Fox pointed out, today’s search engines largely work by reverse-engineering the search engine optimization (SEO) that’s built into many Web sites. In other words, many companies build in specific terms into their Web pages so services like Google will bring them up in search results. That could soon be a tired approach.
Facebook Graph Search will also test the uncertain boundaries between the information contained on social media services and those available on the public Web. Anything Graph Search can’t find, in this case, will be sent as a query to Microsoft’s Bing search engine. The goal here, however, will be to satisfy most users without taking them back outside. As far as Zuckerberg is concerned, it’s Facebook’s world. We’ll just search in it.