Creepy or cool? The conundrum that is Facebook Graph Search

The introduction of Facebook graph search has marketers and data-miners jumping for joy to the point where I can almost hear CIOs salivating from my small little office in South Melbourne.

There are pros and cons to this new search engine, that has been labelled everything from ‘the best thing to happen to marketers’ to ‘the biggest threat to privacy mankind has ever seen.’

For those of you not familiar with what Facebook Graph Search actually is, it’s a semantic search, announced in March 2013. Graph Search has been designed to give answers to users natural language queries rather than simply a list of links, which is what Facebook searches have relied on until now. The new search function will use the mammoth amounts of data acquired by Facebook’s billions of users, as well as pulling external data, in a search engine to provide specific search results.

From a marketing point of view the new search engine will, in theory, be more useful than the wheel. However, the billions of users, mentioned above, are getting slightly squeamish at the thought of having every restaurant they have ever checked in to, every picture they have ever liked and every brand they have ever mentioned being able to be searched and found by just about anyone.

What a conundrum!

Facebook graph search has been slowly appearing on users’ Facebook home pages over the last few days – mine appeared yesterday, while my sister is still patiently waiting for her tool bar to magically change around and for all of her Facebook secrets to be made public. My editor’s hasn’t appeared yet and this displeases him greatly.

What this means for marketers

Martina Best, digital director of agency Frank Media, says this platform, simply provides brands with the ability to get more coverage and far more reach.

“Say if you are from Melbourne, and you want to find a good restaurant in Sydney, you can search for restaurants in Sydney your friends have liked. It just provides the user with a much more personalised way to search for services as well as really extending a brand’s reach,” she says.

Facebook has not released much information yet on what kind of opportunities it will provide in terms of ‘sponsored results’ but chances are this will be another option that will be be main available to further benefit marketers.

The fight for digital dominance: is Facebook trying to be the new Google? 

“Quite possibly,” says Best. “The fight for the digital dominance is definitely on, with Facebook Graph, the search algorithm is a joint venture between Facebook and Bing. We’ll see how it pans out,” she says.

It may also be possible that the data Facebook already has on its users is probably bigger than what Google has.

Google’s data has indexed things and places, compared to Facebook that has information about people, their connections and relationships, which is possibly already far more valuable than anything Google has at the moment, hence its attempts to enter the social space through Google Plus.

“[Having information about] peoples connections and relationships is very powerful data set that they [Facebook] have at their fingertips, so dominance can be quiet easily achieved, if that’s what they’re after,” Best says.

“Mark Zukerburg is certainly a great entrepreneur, but he is also very clever and he is, perhaps, after the domination. Why not?”

Is this all just getting a little creepy?

It seems now, every man and his dog – why their dogs even need Facebook, I am not sure – is scrambling to change their privacy setting to stop companies profiting off their personal information. But how much can we all hide now, and is this new search engine really as morally bankrupt as a certain section of the community will have you believe? After all, every search will simply return information that every Facebook user has, at a time, posted online voluntarily, with (hopefully) the knowledge that everything posted on the internet is fairly permanent. What could cause problems is that users may not be aware who the information they have shared is available to.

Best’s opinion on the effect Graph will have on users search was surprising, as the digital director of a digital marketing company, she urges caution and is wary for Facebook. “I think for the user it is really scary, everybody should go back and check their security settings and their privacy settings, because what it could really easily become is like the biggest customer survey, there is really no shame in what data you can’t have access to.

“For me personally, while I think it is really great for marketers, I think it is really dangerous to the privacy of the individual.”

Whether this is an attempt by Facebook to monetise more effectively its vast vaults of information or to simply provide a convenient search function for its users, or both, remains to be seen.

 

Rebecca Hagan
BY Rebecca Hagan ON 25 July 2013