Graph Search: Facebook and Microsoft team up to take on Google’s search dominance

Facebook drew attention to a big “mystery announcement” today and then used the event to announce a new front end to Bing.

Graph Search will be the new empty field next to a magnifying glass icon that appears at the top of every Facebook Page you visit, eventually. The tool is in limited rollout to the market right now and only available to select US English users. The search tool will supersede Facebook’s current key word search tool by focusing on phrases to group up information in a context that’s personally useful.

Graph Search results appear in a page that can be further customized with filters.

For example, I’m attending an Eels concert in Toronto near the end of February. I’m a big fan of the band, but I’m not really sure if any of my friends listen to them as well. So I could turn to Graph Search and ask what “friends who live in my city and like the Eels” to find out. The results are displayed in a custom page with my query as the title. I can further fine tune that page with a series of filters.

But if my search goes beyond what can be accomplished by pairing together data fields that we all type into Facebook, I get relayed to Bing – you know, that Microsoft search engine set as the Internet Explorer default. It’s another reminder of that 1.6 per cent equity stake that Microsoft Corp. took in the budding social network back in 2007. And it’s a big wake-up call for Google.

Google – already having search dominance with upwards of 70 per cent of the market worldwide, according to a November 2012 comScore qSearch analysis – has been slowly intertwining a social layer into its search engine via Google+. If your friend on Google+ recommends the Eels concert schedule (that’s +1 in Google parlance) and you search for the Eels or concerts in Toronto, then you’re likely to see that page near the top of your results, alongside a thumbnail of your friend’s profile picture.

Google’s social play in search extends to the business sector as well. What used to be Google Local profiles that showed up in certain searches and appeared in Google Maps are now just Google+ profile pages for business. If your business wants to be listed with up to date and accurate information on Google Maps and have a good shot of showing up in the results of local potential customers, you don’t have a choice – joining Google+ is the only way to do so.

Graph Search is being rolled out to some US English users first.

Now, by offering a social layer to Bing’s search, Facebook is hoping to one-up Google at its own game. Whereas Google provided the search engine we already use and is drawing us into its social network, Facebook provides the social network we already use and is inviting us to search the Web from that platform. It’s a play to deflect consumers from Google search by promising to show them content relevant to the people they know first, then the content that everyone sees with Bing.

For businesses, it’s another reason to invest in your Facebook Page rather than focus on Google+. I’ve been advocating for businesses to create a Google+ profile if only for the SEO benefits alone. Now Facebook is providing businesses an opportunity to be found more easily via its own search. Don’t be surprised to see these entries eventually work their way into the native Bing search as well.

Facebook may have hyped its announcement as a mystery, but analysts have long predicted the social network’s entry into search. Greenlight, a London-based digital marketing agency, run a global survey in early 2012 and determined that a Facebook search engine could capture close to a quarter of the overall search market, just by coming online. That would make it the second-most used search engine after Google in every market except for China, Russia, and Japan, where it would rest in third place behind popular local search engines.

The projection sounds grandiose, but with being the most-visited page on the Internet and the search offering backed by a tested technology in Bing, it seems feasible. While Google may maintain its lead by asking us to reveal who are friends are as we search the Web, Facebook will eat away at it by letting us search the Web while hanging out with our friends.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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