Facebook's latest roll-out is a new feature called Graph search-a kind of new search engine designed to give users more options in sorting through topics and interests based on their friends.
"Before the arrival of Facebook's Graph Search, the search function on Facebook was basic and as such, a wasted opportunity given Facebook's imperative to strengthen advertising revenues," said Eden Zoller, principal analyst at Ovum. "Facebook Graph Search will no doubt leverage member data to provide advertisers with more targeted, personalised advertising opportunities going forward. But Facebook needs to tread very carefully here and be mindful of user privacy. It claims to have built Graph Search with privacy in mind, but Facebook has a mixed track record on this front and is in the habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable."
The new feature is more a tool than a search engine. "Facebook Graph Search is not a Web search engine, but a search tool designed to enrich the Facebook platform and experience for both users and advertisers," he added. "This is sensible as a full blown Web search engine from Facebook would inevitably have to compete with Google search, and given Google's dominance of the search market it would be hard for Facebook to make a serious impact - and win advertising dollars."
"Facebook's worst nightmare is a static social graph; if users aren't adding very many new friends or connections, then their personal network becomes less and less active over time," says Forrester analyst Nate Elliott. "Terrifyingly for Facebook, that threat is very real: We haven't seen significant growth in the average number of friends per user recently. Graph search seems designed to encourage users to add more friends more quickly. If it means users' personal networks change more frequently, and become more active, then that keeps them coming back to the site - which is vital to Facebook's success."
Facebook's Graph Search - A story of 'Three' Halves
Andreas Pouros, COO at leading London-based digital marketing agency, Greenlight, says today's announcement is a story of 'three' halves.
"On the one hand," he says, "users will be very happy to get this new functionality that Facebook is calling 'Graph Search'. It is innovative and powerful, and will allow people to search within Facebook, albeit restricted to what they can see and read right now. It allows the user to search across people, places and interests using structured queries, e.g. 'Friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter, or more usefully perhaps 'Which restaurants do my friends like in London'."
On the other hand, however, Pouros says it is unlikely to be enough to allay investor concerns over Facebook's commercial focus. "Many had expected Facebook would have launched a new mobile phone today or thrown down the gauntlet to Google and challenged the company in Web Search supremacy, neither of which happened," he says. Web Search is a touchy subject as everyone knows that it is a hugely lucrative market, and one Facebook was expected to enter. Graph Search may well be a precursor to that but Pouros fears investors will suspect that it's too little progress.
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