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Facebook Graph Search a Missed Opportunity

Potential future benefits or harm aside, there is one thing all should be able to agree upon: Graph Search, as it is, is a missed opportunity for Facebook.

A challenge to Google. A further invasion of privacy. A positive addition to the social experience.

There are plenty of opinions regarding Facebook’s newest innovation, Graph Search, which was announced on Tuesday.

Graph Search, a new feature being rolled out over the next few months, will allow users to use Facebook’s search tool to answer more complex questions regarding their social connections.

Want to find which of your friends who live in Texas are football fans? Who of your friends likes both Britney Spears and Beethoven? Graph Search will do it for you.

As is typical for any new feature on Facebook (or any social network, for that matter), complaints and compliments abound.

However, potential future benefits or harm aside, there is one thing both sides should be able to agree upon: Graph Search, as it is, is a missed opportunity for Facebook.

Where are the search volume tools?

If a user enters a search in the Facebook woods and no functionality is around to count it, did it even happen?

Sure, it’s fun to find out who lives near me and is also a Milwaukee Brewers fan (living in NYC, I’m guessing… not many). But beyond the novelty of Graph Search, Facebook  isn’t offering anything juicy to its core source of revenue – the people who actually spend money on Facebook advertising, promoted posts and sponsored stories.

Business and bloggers alike could benefit from detailed insight into what people are searching on Facebook, and how that data differs from what people search for and how they conduct searches on Google and other search engines.

We know that people search Facebook much differently than Google, we just don’t know precisely how. And Facebook hasn’t given us much to work with.

Developing a robust (or at least slightly more robust) analytics or search tool would enable Facebook and businesses that use Facebook’s paid features better develop promotion and advertising strategies to find their core audience, deliver better targeted content and achieve higher conversion rates, the profit from which, could be invested into more Facebook advertising and tools.

There are rumors Facebook might introduce a challenger to Google’s AdWords as they develop their current offerings, but the introduction of Graph Search would have been the perfect time for them to share search volume tools to capture the interest of current and potential advertisers,especially since several business owners have voiced dissatisfaction with how Facebook currently uses EdgeRank to direct and choose who sees advertising and promoted posts.

Why no incentives to share more (and more accurate) information with Facebook?

Graph Search pulls information from profiles to deliver results. However, I doubt my male friends who ‘Like’ Victoria’s Secret on Facebook are interested in cute yoga pants (the girl in them, maybe).

What we like on Facebook may not be an accurate indication or endorsement of a location or a brand. When Facebook first came out with the feature, tons of users ‘Liked’ things as a joke or joined groups for no real reason other than to be more ironic (or, in some cases, moronic) than their friends. I doubt people are going to go back and ‘unlike’ things just to help improve the accuracy of Graph Search.

In contrast with arbitrary ‘Liking,’ people also don’t necessarily ‘like’ things they actually do like. I, for instance, actually do shop at Victoria’s Secret, but I haven’t ‘Liked’ their page on Facebook.

Facebook may claim it relies on these businesses to provide incentive to users to ‘like’ pages, however, Graph Search will remain stagnant unless ALL of these businesses take efforts to grow audience and drive engagement on Facebook seriously - and many brands just don’t know how to do that yet. 

Graph Search alone isn’t an incentive for them to invest the amount of marketing energy into Facebook that they do into Google – especially without those handy search volume tools I mentioned earlier.

Let’s face it: If I’m going to write a restaurant review, I’m going to do it on Yelp rather than a business’s location page on Facebook.

Not enough to convince you? Exhibit A: Look at the whopping amount of locations I’ve checked in to on Facebook – 23. True, some users do use this feature regularly. But frequency of Facebook use of this feature, ‘Liking’ pages and anything else isn’t going to go up and therefore it won’t contribute to improving Graph Search’s potential positive effects for businesses and individuals.

I don’t intend on increasing my location check-ins on Facebook just so that my friends can find out my favorite burrito place. To get a free burrito, however…

Businesses themselves aren’t interested in consciously and actively improving Graph Search results as a whole parallel to their own goals unless they are provided with reason to do so as well.

Yes, that burrito place wants me to ‘Like’ them on Facebook so they can convince me to spend more money on their addictive guacamole-infused creations, but the addition of that information into Graph Search is just a byproduct that’s effect on increasing engagement or potential ROI the burrito shack can’t even calculate.

Without incentives to users and businesses alike to contribute additional and truthful  information, Graph Search will be both unreliable and, in a sense, a dumber search engine and social endorsement tool than other existing applications.

When will it deliver us results in the form we want them?

Zuckerberg said: “People who use our mobile products are more engaged, and we believe we can increase engagement even further as we continue to introduce new products and improve our platform.”

Then, Mark, why is Graph Search the best you could give us?

Mobile users (and mobile-only users) of Facebook are steadily increasing. A few mobile-friendly Graph Search updates could be a great way to gain Facebook users in general, drive engagement even further and make Facebook (even more) money.

Some ideas for mobile-friendly additions?

  • Let us speak to it. Hands-free Graph Search is easier than texting a long query on a small screen
  • Incorporate an analog of Foursquare’s radar feature and Google Latitude into the Facebook mobile app. Have Graph Search automatically recommend nearby places or pages your Facebook friends are at or that they have ‘Liked’ based on where you are as well as your Graph Search history. No doubt this would also increase Facebook’s sales of check-in offers to local businesses.
  • FIX THE FACEBOOK APP. Ok, this isn’t an addition, per se. But… really, Facebook? Your app is buggier than Miami in August. No wonder more people use a mobile browser to access Facebook than  your clunky, user-hostile app.

Don’t get me wrong. Graph Search is an interesting addition to the social search and endorsement scene. But it’s still primitive.

Facebook needs to take advantage of its position as a social content leader in order to establish itself as a useful search tool as well. If you build it, Mr. Zuckerberg, they will come.

Zuck, you’re welcome.  You can contact me via Twitter to find out where to mail the check.