On Tuesday, Facebook unveiled Graph Search, and I’ve been doing little but reading and writing about it ever since. There’s one conclusion I’ve drawn about it so far, above all else, and that’s that we have no idea how big this thing can really get.
Mark Zuckerberg made it very clear that this is the “very early” version of the product, which is only in limited beta to begin with. The company is rolling it out slowly, and will improve on it in time. To me, the biggest potential that Graph Search holds, in terms of making a real mark on the search space, is what lies in the Open Graph, which accounts for a huge chunk of the web (all of those sites that have some kind of Facebook integration). That goes beyond what happens in your News Feed, or on your timeline.
Even out of the box, however, we’re seeing signs that this could make a major dent in the local search space. Think about it. People arguably go to their friends for recommendations about local businesses than they do for any other kind of query. This is why Google has made such a push for social in its local search results. First it was that Hotpot thing, and then last year, they even went so far as to make the switch from Google Places to Google+ Local. You have to be signed into your Google account to review a business, and with Google’s social search features, Google will show you when you happen upon a result that one of your Google+ connections has engaged with.
While this is all great in concept, it’s severely lacking in execution on Google’s part, most of all, because Google+ does not have the kinds of connections that Facebook has. Naturally, that’s where the world’s largest social network comes in. That’s what they have. That’s what Facebook does. They connect people, and have done so for over a billion users. You’re far more likely to find meaningful (to you) opinions on Facebook than you are on Google+, and especially at the local level. Your everyday friends – the friends that you live close to and work with – are on Facebook. These are the friends that are going to the stores and restaurants that you are likely to visit.
Furthermore, the businesses in your town are far more likely to have Facebook Pages than Google+ pages (as well as the “likes” from local residents that are associated with them). No wonder Facebook is calling on businesses to optimize their Pages for Graph Search.
Zuckerberg opened up Graph Search’s introduction by saying that this is not web search. He doesn’t want us to think that Facebook is really going after Google with this product, and in many ways it is not (at least not yet). People aren’t suddenly going to go to Facebook Search to find everything they want to know. However, when it comes to seeing what the people they actually know think about businesses they’re actually thinking about checking out, Facebook automatically has the more relevant results. The results may be incomplete because you can’t rely on all of your friends to “like” everything they actually like (Danny Sullivan made some great points about this), but the results must be more relevant than Google’s for those looking for their friends’ opinions, simply because their friends are present.
There’s nothing Google can do about this problem, short of a deal with Facebook (which it could find a way to get if it wanted to badly enough, from the sound of it), or people magically abandoning Facebook for Google+ (and that’s not happening anytime soon either). In some circles (no pun intended), Google+ might be able to fit the bill. If you work, for Google, for example, you know a lot of people on Google+. For the rest of the world, I’m not so sure.