This week, Facebook unveiled what it calls “graph search.” The name isn’t user friendly. And neither is the feature itself.
Mark Zuckerberg pitched the function as a new way to search within the Facebook platform, allowing users to search based on all the data they and their friends have inputted. But numerous studies have shown that most data on Facebook is inconsistent and rotten—lots of fake likes, lots of outdated and incorrect information nobody bothers to update, and many data voids that will no doubt produce useless search results.
However, will Facebook care about any of that? Probably not. See, graph search isn’t really for the users.
Some people will use it and some of those people will enjoy using it. And with more than one billion active users, “some” in this context means potentially hundreds of millions of people. These folks will think graph search is for them and that it’s cool. And maybe it will be cool. But it’s still not for them.
Although the comapny will never admit it—and why should they?—Facebook is doing graph search for advertisers above all. The social network relies very heavily on advertisement for revenue. Last year it brought ads into news feeds with “sponsored stories” and allowed pages to pay to promote their posts. So we know the company isn’t above doing pretty much anything within the platform to generate cash. Graph search is simply the latest product that will accomplish this.
Brian Blay, research director in consumer technologies for research firm Gartner, told the Financial Post that “advertisers are going to be thinking with the more detailed query they can better target their audience. All of a sudden they know who the individual is and what they’re searching for so they can have a better relationship with them.”
Graph search was quickly labelled “not really a big deal” to users by one analyst. But in the context of advertising, it’s already being described as “better ammunition to target users.”
That’s exactly how Facebook wants it. And as long as graph search doesn’t push privacy boundaries, there’s no problem with that. Just know that your graph searches are less about finding relevant information in a new and effective way and more about creating ad targeting bait.
But hey, what else is new?