Last night, with my feet up watching TV, I was amazed at the number of ads I saw for information search and listing-type websites. Within two commercial breaks, I counted at least four; Hotels.com, Trivago, Kayak and 118 118. For me this really hit home how the modern psychology of online purchasing, especially for big ticket items and leisure activities, is changing. Not just satisfied with finding out where we can obtain a R186 signal box, or fishing advice from JR Hartley, we now want that instantaneous, great value deal, in addition to seeking advice and advocacy from others through the myriad of reviews and rating calculations that these sites provide.
Which is why recent announcement from Menlo Park headquarters earlierthat Facebook is planning on moving into the search territory so dominated by Google, created a great deal of buzz amongst the tech community, content-aggregators and advertisers alike. For all of us involved in the advertising business it is interesting to speculate exactly what threat, if any, Facebook Graph search will provide to Google, and subsequently the huge advertising revenues it generates.
In one corner, we have Google, and the estimated $13.4 billion in net revenue it receives from online search advertising. According to Comscore, Google pulls in 67% of all non-mobile online search across the world. The Knowledge Graph, developed by Google, is a database of the 570 million most searched for people, places and things, each with associated contextual information to enable Google to most effectively second-guess exactly what the searcher is seeking when they type their requirements into the famous white box. Google’s philosophy is to utilise their secretive and ever-changing algorithm, based on over 200 questions, to return the highest quality, most relevant and fast search responses back to the user. Of course, the cash they are able to generate through their targeted AdWords programme is a very rewarding by-product.
In the other corner, sits Facebook, the most visited website in the developed world, with data collected from over one billion users and, more interestingly for the purpose of Facebook Graph, over one trillion real connections.
It appeared to me on first view that Facebook’s Graph search was simply an extension of the social network, a structured search engine for finding people, places, photos, and interests. But I soon realised that by tapping into the secret-garden of personal interactions it has access to, Facebook Graph has the ability to make search ‘social’, with the tools to increase peer-group advocacy and build greater personal relevance into search listings.
How often do we all see Facebook status updates such as ‘Any recommendations for a plumber in North London?’, or ‘Looking for a restaurant for a special birthday dinner. Please help’. On my own Facebook page, I would say at least 3-4 times a week. It is clear that people are already seeking opinion, feedback and recommendations through their friends on Facebook and the Facebook Graph search infrastructure will allow this to happen without the requirement for friends to actually respond.
Whilst Google+ allows its users access to similar information, my initial view is that Facebook Graph has the potential to be easier to use, more intuitive, and incorporates an additional ‘social’ element. As Lars Rasmussen, one of its creators, pointed out “There’s a little bit more to it than just finding the best place to have a meal tonight. Knowing which of your friends recommended it, or which of your friends liked it, will help you have a more social experience.”
Of course, at this stage Facebook Graph is still very much in development, and Head of Google Search Amit Singhal and his team at Mountain View won’t be quaking in their boots just yet. However, the ability Facebook has to use the huge amount of data it collects about us all to drive a search engine, definitely opens up an opportunity for a new way of searching.
If users decide that receiving responses calculated from friend connections and activities is more useful than the quick, efficient and robust Google algorithm then Facebook definitely has a leg-up into Google’s territory, especially given the mobile functionality this provides. It is unlikely Google’s online search revenues will be impacted too dramatically, but Facebook Graph could prove a very valuable method for Mr. Zuckerburg and his team in extending the reach of Facebook advertising and persuading advertisers to focus more of their budgets within the platform. Whatever the outcome, the next 12 months should prove very revealing for the future of online search.
Will Reeve is a Research Director at Ipsos ASI