Facebook believes they can change the way we search by offering a direct look into trends and information within our social networks. This vision has manifested itself into a product known as Graph Search. Facebook claims that this new product will “help users find people that share similar interests, explore your world through photos, and discover restaurants, music and more.” Graph Search has exciting potential since the product puts social discovery and big data analysis into the hands of millions. While these ideas are exciting for social innovation, Facebook still needs to answer to investors about how this search product translates into revenue – a prospect which requires user engagement with commercial intent. Here are 3 big hurdles that the social network will need to clear before it’s off to the races with its users as well as investors.
Conformity & Consumer Behavior
From a commercial perspective, all of the speculation around the power behind knowing exactly where your friends eat, shop, vacation, etc relies on the assumption that everyone wants to be just like their peers. This hypothesis has been challenged in numerous psychological experiments, most notably in studies related to human conformity. Experiments in human conformity found that the majority segment of people (middle-status) don’t want to be just like their friends. Rather, they want to be more like those who influence their friends.
A Harvard Business School study on conformity and consumer behavior in online purchasing resulted in similar findings. Purchases by middle-status members in the Korean social network Cyworld were influenced by top-status members rather than their peers. Furthermore, the study found that none of the three major groups are influenced by their peers. So if you believe the well-documented human conformity theory will continue to hold true, then Graph Search and other similar social tools will not be used to a large degree for the discovery of products and services based on your social network. Why use Graph Search to find out what your friends like when you can simply visit your influencers’ Facebook pages to see what the they like?
If You Build It, Will They Revolt?
The most interesting use of Graph Search that I found during this Beta release was in the documentation of strange Facebook Graph Searches. This is an entertaining example of how transparent your personal information has become with Graph Search. It is still yet to be known how individual users will respond to being publicly included in searches like these, especially in countries with limited human rights such as China or Iran. Facebook users may revolt by deleting data within their profiles or the profile altogether, both of which would considerably lower the value of the Facebook. Considering the backlash against companies like Google that even go so far as to anonymize user data, it is logical to expect a huge backlash against what many users may believe to be an extremely transparent invasion of privacy.
Past Social Search Strike-outs
The idea of searching within your social network is nothing new. Live Twitter updates used to be a part of Google search until the social giant ended the deal in 2011. The same conversations took place back then about ‘disrupting’ search with information from your social network, but the speculation failed to change the way we search or open up new revenue streams.
Even today Google already contains personalized search feature that includes recommendations from people in your social network known as Search Plus Your World. This function had a mostly quiet release and still has yet to ‘disrupt’ the search industry. However, the mere existence of Facebook as a social network has already proven that they don’t have to be the first to market to be the most successful player on the field.
The potential of allowing all users to harness Facebook’s data within a search portal is an exciting prospect with huge potential for enhanced human connection, understanding, and innovation. If these hurdles can be overcome, then Graph Search could be the game-changing application that we all hope it can be.