Data, data, and more data. Facebook's newest feature could mean great news for advertisers--if users are willing to play along.
In a much-anticipated product announcement Tuesday, Facebook unveiled a new feature that will let users--and presumably marketers--dig even deeper into the company's massive database of personal information. It's called Graph Search, and the idea is to enable users to search for people, places, photos, and interests within their Facebook network.
Potential queries could range from the benign (“Mexican food restaurants in San Francisco that my friends like”) to the creepy (“single women in Boston who are friends with my friends and like Justin Bieber”), but all had at least two things in common: They do what several other notable Web services already do (watch out, Google, Yelp, and LinkedIn), and they offer some potentially important advertising opportunities for businesses. Although CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company isn't yet focused on monetizing the search feature--"right now, we're focused on user feedback," he told the audience of reporters at the Menlo Park, California, event--he hinted that it wouldn't be long before marketers would be let in.
In the meantime, here are three aspects of Graph Search you should know about:
1. Word-of-mouth recommendations are going to be even more powerful.
This is where Graph Search acts a lot like Yelp, only more personalized. You can search for restaurants, music, activities--pretty much anything--based on things like location and number of friends' likes. In other words, users are not just browsing random reviews; they have the ability to gather word-of-mouth recommendations from friends without actually having a word-of-mouth conversation. Plus, they can prioritize the results on the basis of how close they are to the friends. If Facebook can't return the results you're looking for, it will direct users to a Bing search.
2. Recruiting via Facebook just became easier.
You probably already use a popular online network to look for qualified job candidates and referrals, right? So what sets Facebook’s new tool apart from LinkedIn? The fact that Graph Search lets businesses create hyperspecific searches within their existing Facebook networks, such as “employees of my company who are friends with employees of Google” or "people who have been project managers and founders."
Facebook aims to go beyond the basic search for talent and let you dig deeper into your existing connections--so they can dig deeper into their own connections.
3. More personal data means even finer-grained ad targeting.
Though Facebook repeatedly stresses time and again its commitment to user privacy, the fact of the matter is this: Facebook needs its users to generate revenue. By sharing information about what they like, what music they listen to, where they vacation, and whom they know, users create specific marketing profiles that are valuable to companies and advertisers. Expect those data profiles to get even more detailed with Graph Search.
But there is at least one potential hiccup: For Graph Search to really work, it relies on users to keep their information detailed and accurate--by registering their current city, favorite music, interests, places, etc. It will be even "more important [for users] to make sure that all of their information is up to date," said Tom Stocky, product management director of Facebook. Given users' increasing privacy concerns, that's no safe bet.
Will users be willing to participate, not to mention ditch those other Web services and start using Facebook in new ways? Stay tuned.
FRANCESCA FENZI reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle. @FrancescaFenzi