There's no doubt that Facebook's new Graph Search feature is cool. It's the advanced Facebook search we've always wanted. But is it going to change the way you search for things on the internet? Probably not — it will just change how you search on Facebook.
Facebook Graph Search allows you to find, using natural language, just about anything that Facebook's database of people can hold, and narrow results down by specific categories like music, places, photos, video games, and more. It's similar to the "advanced search" Facebook had in the old days, but even better at filtering people by their interests and likes (not to mention easier to use). Right now its range of options is restricted and there is a lot of development needed, but that hasn't stopped the world pontificating on what it means for Facebook.
TechCrunch said it's going to "replace a major chunk of Google". The Wall Street Journal called it a "direct competitor" to Google. CNN reports that Yelp's stock is down following the announcement. We, on the other hand, don't think any of this is really related.
Don't get me wrong: Facebook's new search looks very cool, and it's definitely a useful feature for a number of things. But is it going to replace Google, or be the first site someone goes to when they want to search for a new restaurant or band? That seems unlikely. Here's why.
What Facebook Graph Search Does
Graph Search finally takes all that information you and your friends have put on Facebook, and makes it easily searchable. In fact, it's a wonder this feature's been missing for so long. You can search for people who listen to the same bands as you, play the same video games, or like the same food. This is not only great for the ever-enjoyable Facebook stalking session, but for planning stuff with your friends. For example, you could:
- Find friends in your town who like Mumford & Sons, so you can a trip with them to the upcoming Mumford & Sons concert in said town.
- Find friends who play Call of Duty, so you can play it with them online.
- Find friends in your town that like sushi, and thus might be amenable to going out for sushi.
See a pattern? It's useful for finding stuff as it relates to your friends, which is what you're on Facebook for in the first place. This really is awesome — previously you had to go around asking people who played Call of Duty, or who liked sushi. That's now a thing of the past; with Graph Search you can gather together similarly-minded people with just a keystroke. That's social networking at its finest.
What Facebook Graph Search Doesn't Do
Facebook Graph Search is an awesome "friend search tool", but people seem to be touting it as an alternative to an actual search engine. That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Using the above examples, people seem to think that you can use Facebook Graph Search to:
- Search Facebook for other bands like Mumford & Sons, based on what your friends like, instead of using Pandora or Spotify.
- Search for good video games to play, instead of searching Steam or Amazon or Kotaku for reviews.
- Search for a good sushi restaurant, based on where your friends have checked in, instead of searching highly rated sushi restaurants on Yelp.
Sure, a little of this here and there could be handy. If you have one or two foodie friends that you trust, seeing if they've been to a particular restaurant could give you a better idea of whether it's good. But it isn't going to replace Yelp, which has massive amounts of detailed reviews from people that aren't limited to your Facebook friends. Why search only the restaurants your friends have been to, rather than all the restaurants on Yelp, reviewed by masses of people? Why search just the bands those old high school buddies listed as Likes, rather than all the bands in Spotify or Pandora's database that match your tastes?
It All Hinges On What People Actually "Like"
This leads us to the last weakness of this assumption: All of this only works if your friends constantly like, post about, and check into everything they enjoy on Facebook. And, as much as Facebook would like you to believe this is true, it isn't — at least for most of your friends. People don't go on Facebook to list every one of their favourite bands, or give detailed reviews for restaurants. They may one day, but for now, Yelp and Pandora are tailored specifically to those things, and have much more detailed data than Facebook does, so they aren't going anywhere when it comes to finding that one thing.
The bottom line: This is an awesome new feature for Facebook, not an awesome new feature for the internet. For anything not related to Facebook or your Facebook friends, you'll still be better off going to Google, or Yelp, or Amazon — and no one will give a second thought to doing so.