There is a reason ‘Google’ is a verb. Facebook’s Graph Search is a great concept, but will require a huge shift in user behavior

When Facebook announced Graph Search on Tuesday, the headlines that immediately began zipping around the Interwebs seemed a bit manic: “Will Graph Search Kill LinkedIn, Yelp, and Google?” “The Truth About Graph Search,” and “Graph Search Just Made Me a Facebook Addict.” image

And all before the feature has even been released. So let’s take a deep breath (ahem…“Graph Search is the beginning of the Enlightenment”), take a cold shower, and look at this in the cool light of day.

  1. First of all, this is a damn cool idea. Not only does this contextualize search, it compounds data points as TechCrunch hilariously pointed out. It’s like you’re using a friendlier version of a pivot table, except with words as your filters. This is akin to what Google’s personalized results were like way back in 2010 when the search engine integrated with Twitter.
  2. Success of Graph Search will rely on changing how and where people search. There’s a reason ‘Google’ is a verb. User behavior will have to change all across the Internet to make give Google a run for its money. Not impossible, of course. I would argue that the users will change their behavior time and getting to the tipping point where new behaviors become commonplace is getting shorter and shorter.
  3. Graph Search is betting on privacy becoming less and less important to users. I think Facebook may be right here. For years social technologies have been encouraging and rewarding sharing (and over sharing). Occasional miscues and all-too-personal updates are now met with more shrugged shoulders than raised eyebrows. My sense is that most people (save a vocal minority) are less concerned about the privacy of the data they share willingly.
  4. Mobile? Anybody? Mobile?
  5. Facebook can easily deliver splices of autobiographical data, e.g., “Friends in Somerville, MA” but delivering on “Moroccan Restaurants in Boston that my friends like” requires many more moving parts. As Rebecca Greenfield over at The Atlantic pointed out, “when it comes to recommending places, books, or movies, Graph Search either needs “likes” or check-ins, something that requires constant updating.” In order for that data to be useful, a significant portion of my friends will have had to have checked in to a Moroccan restaurant in Boston or liked that restaurant’s Page. I’m willing to bet (and if anyone has research on this, please send it my way) that a lot of that checking in, reviewing, and recommending isn’t happening on Facebook.

In essence, what’s really standing in Facebook’s way is it’s own proliferation. Facebook is a broadcast system. Your mom and dad (even your grandparents) are on there with the occasional awkward comment. Most people do not want to blast every moment of their lives in front of all their friends, coworkers, and family.

Which is why niche social networks continue to gain in popularity. There’s power in broadcast platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but the size and scope of those networks also diminish their usefulness in certain circumstances. Which is part of the reason marketing nerds like me are so enamored with Google+. The smaller scale (and the type of folks who are active there) make it a particularly interesting space for me.

If Facebook and Twitter are like the town hall, then networks like Pinterest and Google+ are more like the neighborhood coffee shop, and bespoke networks are like the living rooms in our homes. I think this shift signifies our need for context (and boundaries) in our relationships online.

Because Facebook taught us (on a mass scale) what social networking was all about in the first place, in a way the platform has prepared us to take steps away from it. And while Graph Search is an attempt to tie all of our online interactions closer together, I’m not so sure that there can ever be one home for everything we do online. But watching the evolution of these platforms will certainly be interesting.

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