Sunday, 20 January 2013

How Facebook's Graph Search will affect Google, Technology, and Privacy..-must read

How Facebook's Graph Search will affect Google, Technology, and Privacy

What has been both feared and expected is finally on its way: Facebook is building a better search; they're opening their vast stores of user data and giving us the ability to discover what’s inside. Lars Rasmussen, the mind that brought us Google Maps, is now hard at work creating Facebook’s new Graph Search, and from the looks of it, it’s going to put unprecedented power in the hands of its users.
“This will allow you to find friends of friends with common interests, friends of friends who like ballroom dancing,” said Tom Stocky, Product Director for Graph Search and former Google employee, ”and what this will do is make your community feel a bit smaller, make the world feel a bit smaller.”

Using innovative analytics, natural language processing, and Facebook’s massive stores of user data, Graph Search is opening up a whole new world of information to us, information about our lives and the people we share it with. The new interface includes a much larger search bar, which facebook is hoping will become your go to search for learning about your world.

From a user perspective, Graph Search is very simple. You ask a question like, “Who do I know in Chicago,” and Facebook shows a list with pictures of your friends and friends of friends who live in Chicago. The tool can search photo’s, interests, likes, personal connections, and location to given answers to questions like, “show me pictures of my family”, “what friends at work like skiing?”, “show me pictures of Christie and I”, “What link’s have a liked?”, “What restaurants do my friends like in Boston?”

“It's interesting because most people today don’t think about Facebook as a place to discover places they could go eat, or things that they could go do,” An excited Mark Zuckerberg stated, “but with this product it’s just so natural to be able to do that.”

Graph Search will change the way we engage with each other on facebook, and makes us consider some important questions.

Will Graph Search Challenge Google?
Some recent articles claim that this new search function will challenge Google’s dominance because Graph Search queries data Google can’t access. Google isn’t sweating this one, trust me.

If Graph Search exceeds expectations, it will become the go to place for searching about your friends; it will dominate social searching. But Google isn’t banking on social, sure you can search social using Google, but you can also search everything else. Facebook won’t ever be the go to search for expertise, it could be the go to for opinion. But when it comes time to searches for substance, for academic papers, current news, business, forums, government, and whatever else you need to know about, Google is the place we go and the place we will continue to go.

Now one way this could be used is to augment Bing, which is trying to use it’s facebook integration to increase market share.

Will the Technology Change how we Search?
Natural language processing and direct result returns highlight larger trends in internet usage and technology.

Natural language processing, first mass introduced through Siri, is growing in popularity. Companies like using it as a distinguishing feature because it makes their tools more user friendly. The problem is though, it requires people to be trained away from what they’ve been taught ever since we started searching. “What now I leave the ‘the’, “are”, ‘to’, and ‘for’ in there? ridiculous.” Yes, natural language will make things more user friendly, eventually, but as silly as it sounds this user friendly feature will be a hurdle for some users.

Just as natural language is part of a larger trend so is direct results, and given Facebook's data, it’s a no brainer. Instead of clicking links, you have what you searched for immediately. This works great for Facebook and shows the power of the system. Because of the limited number of categories and ways to search them, Facebook can show you what you want almost every time.

Google would love to be able to do this also and are working on direct results for certain types of searches. The most well known is the Knowledge Graph which shows the vital information about terms you’re searching.  Google wants to give you what you need, and now they try and do that without requiring you to leave their search.

Both these technologies allow Graph Search to function more fluidly and take advantage of larger trends in technology.

What about Privacy?
Facebook stores an incredible amount of data about you, on last count there were 84 categories of data Facebook holds. Not just what you share, but even things like what friend requests you denied and what tags you removed. Most of this data is currently invisible to us but is used to better target those annoying ads in your stream. Graph Search is opening up a sliver of this data to us: photo’s, location, interests, friends, and possibly a few others.

Regarding privacy, Facebook is going to try and do whatever they can to make people comfortable with Graph Search. So expect privacy settings to include the option to be invisible to strangers. However, regardless of your settings, this tool will make people more aware of the information they share. Awareness is always a good thing. 

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