I followed along as Facebook made its 'big announcement' today, and found myself torn. I think that Facebook Graph Search is:
- Really important. It's important because it makes Facebook a more usable and useful site. Facebook's current on-site search tool is pretty terrible — it's almost impossible to find the people you're looking for, or any content that was posted more than a few days ago. If Facebook can help you find stuff on its site more easily then that's good both for users and for Facebook. I suspect Facebook will spend an increasing amount of its time simply upgrading existing features; now the growth in total Facebook users has slowed significantly, this type of basic upkeep will be crucial in making the site as useful as possible for the users who are already there. This type of work is boring, but it's vital — like paying the phone bill, or fixing the leak in your roof.
- But not really a big deal. I've no doubt that parsing a trillion connections between a billion users is an immense challenge. And based on today's demonstration it looks like Facebook's engineers have solved that challenge pretty elegantly. But it's still just site search. The big news isn't that Facebook has fixed its search tool; the big news is that it didn't do this long ago. In fact, Facebook should be more embarrassed that its current search engine was so bad for so long than proud that its next search engine looks pretty good. For it to trumpet Graph Search as big news just looks silly. This is the kind of stuff basic, grown-up online businesses get right every day, without any fanfare. Again, like paying the phone bill, or fixing the leak in your roof.
- Not going to kill Google or Yelp. Will this feature go head-to-head with Google? I seriously doubt it; the two indexes contain entirely different kinds of information. Will it compete with Yelp or TripAdvisor? Again, unlikely; when was the last time you posted a full-paragraph review and a star rating of a restaurant or hotel on Facebook? But I suspect my colleague Shar will have more thoughts about how this fits into discovery; keep an eye on her blog.
The bottom line: Facebook Graph Search is important, but it's also pretty boring.