Facebook to launch new search tool

Graph Search may offer media firepower for content discovery

A new and improved approach to searching at Facebook could give media companies more firepower to leverage the social network for content discovery.

Graph Search enables users to scour the collective connections they’ve amassed across people, places, photos and interests on Facebook, as opposed to the traditional search realm Google has popularized on the open Web. The function has the potential to be an asset for biz marketers in driving promotion and word-of-mouth on movies, TV shows and other entertainment content.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally introduced the product Tuesday at his company’s Menlo Park headquarters, ending days of speculation as to what was the unspecified purpose of the press conference Facebook announced last week. While that briefly boosted Facebook’s stock price, it closed Tuesday at $30.10, down 2.74%.

The potential for Graph Search as a recommendation engine for entertainment was made clear in Facebook’s press-conference demo, when the sample query “Movie my friends like” was entered, triggering an assortment of movies that were liked across the user’s friends, in addition to a list of suggested titles. Another TV-related query yielded an array of video clips to specific series, taking searches one step further to sampling opportunities.

But what may be most compelling about Graph Search are features that won’t be evident at launch but are no-brainers in terms of the evolution of the offering. Graph Search will certainly incorporate sponsorships at some point, which will allow entertainment marketers to tie text requests to like-minded content. Unspecified at the press conference but still likely to come would be linking search results for entertainment to transactional opportunities.

Graph Search is a long-awaited move by Zuckerberg, who signaled last September that such a product was in the offing but was mum on details at the time. In success, Graph Search would make Facebook a stickier environment that will keep users within its walled garden for longer periods, plugging the hole that extends from its current search capabilities to the wider Web, though Microsoft search service Bing will continue to support that option as well.

Graph Search will begin its rollout across Facebook’s U.S. footprint on a limited beta basis, with interested users given the ability to get on a waiting list. The beta will also be restricted to desktop users, meaning no mobile access as of yet. Photos from Facebook-owned Instagram also won’t be initially included. But in time the search box atop each Facebook page will be replaced with this new functionality.

Given its gradual deployment, Graph Search is not going to have any kind of overnight impact on Facebook. But as with everything Facebook does, even if the payoff isn’t immediately apparent, even the smallest moves can’t be ignored when they come from a company this big.

Also in keeping with every move Facebook makes, concerns have been raised anew by Graph Search over privacy safeguards. While Facebook made clear that the new search functionality doesn’t venture beyond the limits each user is allowed to set for themselves, analysts have already begun speculating that users will begin un-tagging and un-liking what’s on their pages to evade Graph Search.

Even if they don’t, there’s no question Graph Search has plenty of user data to mine within the environs of Facebook. But whether there’s enough on an average user’s Facebook page to sufficiently represent their interests on the entertainment front is a question, particularly with regard to the “Like” button Facebook gives users to showcase their affinities. Even a casual review of personal pages is indication enough that the button isn’t quite a staple of the Facebook experience to date.

Not that a media entity of any kind is going to take any chances about being overlooked by Graph Search. If there’s still any movies or TV network in 2013 that don’t have their own Facebook page, now might be a good time for their owners to remedy that.