January 25

Graph Search: How Facebook is Making Your “Likes” Count

By Yamuna Hopwood and Philip Trampe

Facebook is at it again! The brains over in Menlo Park, California are continuously trying to expand and revolutionize the online world, and on January 15, Mark Zuckerberg announced the newest pillar of Facebook: Graph search!

To the common man, (in other words, myself before a quick reading session on the topic), Graph Search sounds like a strange hub of pie charts ready with information. It turns out however that this is not the case. Graph search refers to the ability to search the Social Graph, which is the entirety of Facebook’s connections across the globe.

Through Facebook’s continuous linking of friends, businesses, schools, etc., there are over 1 TRILLION connections established within the social network, and that number is rapidly growing. The Social Graph is the mapping of all of these digital connections, and Graph Search will allow Facebook users to easily extract information from these connections.

Of course for Facebook, that wasn’t enough. Users don’t want to receive just any information based on random people on the network. They want to see what their closest friends like and recommend. Therefore, the wiz kids at H.Q. made it so that the information that you do receive is sorted based on your closest friends who match your search criteria, creating your own tight knit community within the ginormous Social Network (Wow, sounds almost like the real world!).

Who wants to call up your buddy and ask where to find a cool coffee shop in town? Nobody, obviously. Calling up a friend is outdated and sounds complicated. Might as well just use Graph Search.

You might take Graph Search as Facebook’s attempt to become the new Google. But that’s not true. The real goal is to separate your web searches into two different categories. That is, objective searches and subjective searches. On one hand, when you want to know a given fact (like the capital of North Carolina, for example) then Google searching is still going to be your tool of choice. But when you’re looking for local restaurants to try, or bands you might like, it could take hours of sifting through anonymous online reviews before finding exactly what you’re looking for.

This is where Graph Search comes in. The thought is, people are more likely to trust their friends than websites like Yelp! or Yahoo! Answers, and most people are already connected to their friends on Facebook, Graph Search makes it easy to find recommendations that are more relevant to the individual person.

With that being said, if Facebook’s newest feature becomes as popular as Zuckerberg predicts, then the interests and preferences of everyone on your friends list will be little more than a Graph Search away. Of course, this means trouble for referral based websites (like Zagat, or even Pandora), but it also makes your Facebook a great way to interact with people you already know.

So what does that mean for the average Facebook user? The online community thrives on interaction, and with Graph Search, everyone can contribute to the referral party by simply clicking a small thumbs up. That little “like” button that, up until Graph Search, didn’t seem like a big deal, now has some extreme value. Facebook users now have some power! “If I like this little pizzeria, my friends are bound to come here in the near future!”

Think of the implications of this. People who thrive in the Facebook community, like any real world community, are continuously active. Nobody wants to be that guy who neglects the society he lives in. Everyone wants their opinions to be valued. This means that thanks to Graph Search, in order for users to keep up with Facebook, a “like”-ing frenzy is bound to occur, and it is important for businesses to get a fair share of these likes, as they actually will lead to new business.

And since search results will no longer be ordered by global relevance, but by liking activity within individual social graphs, local businesses could soon have the opportunity to gain leverage over larger corporations. It also means that accumulating Facebook likes is more important now than ever before—so to all business owners who might’ve discounted social media as a passing trend—it’s time to start paying attention to your Facebook profile, because thanks to Social Graph, there is a good chance that the correlation between online and on-site foot traffic will be growing steeper every day, and if you want your business to stay relevant in the digital age, you’re going to have to spend as much (if not more) time online, as offline.