Facebook’s Graph Search is generating mixed reviews all over the web. Pretty standard for any product Facebook launches (or any major launch from any major tech company, for that matter – remember the iPad launch?).
There are a lot of angles to be discussed, for sure, and it may be true that the initial product is underwhelming. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Facebook was clear from the beginning that this is the “very early” stage of the product, and it is in limited beta, which the company will roll out slowly, so it can assess feedback, and improve as necessary. There are a lot of features that Facebook says it is working on adding, that will come in the future, no doubt making it a more powerful offering.
A bunch of analysts are already talking about how unimpressive Graph Search is. Can we at least wait until people have had a chance to play around with it?
Forrester analyst Nate Elliott says Graph Search is “really important,” but “not really a big deal.” It’s important because it’s (supposedly) a huge improvement on a site search feature that should have been better to begin with. That’s pretty much the point he’s making.
“It’s important because it makes Facebook a more usable and useful site,” he writes on his blog. “Facebook’s current on-site search tool is pretty terrible – it’s almost impossible to find the people you’re looking for, or any content that was posted more than a few days ago. If Facebook can help you find stuff more on its site more easily then that’s both good for users and good for Facebook. I suspect Facebook will spend an increasing amount of its time simply upgrading existing features; now the growth in total Facebook users has slowed significantly, this type of basic upkeep will be crucial in making the site as useful as possible for the users who are already there. This type of work is boring, but it’s vital — like paying the phone bill, or fixing the leak in your roof.”
“I’ve no doubt that parsing a trillion connections between a billion users is an immense challenge,” he continues. “And based on today’s demonstration it looks like Facebook’s engineers have solved that challenge pretty elegantly. But it’s still just site search. The big news isn’t that Facebook has fixed its search tool; the big news is that they didn’t do this long ago. In fact, Facebook should be more embarrassed that their current search engine was so bad for so long than proud that their next search engine looks pretty good. For them to trumpet Graph Search as big news just looks silly. This is the kind of stuff basic, grown-up online businesses get right every day, without any fanfare. Again, like paying the phone bill, or fixing the leak in your roof.”
Again, yes, Facebook’s search feature has been pretty sub-par, and he’s right in that Facebook should have improved it before now, but it still seems premature to suggest that it’s not really a big deal. For most sites on the web, sure, site search is not that big of a deal, but Facebook is not most sites on the web. Facebook has over a billion users, and more importantly, its users are deeply connected with each other on a very personal level – family, childhood friends, co-workers, college buddies, and the people we interact with every day – the people whose opinions we actually value. That’s pretty big, and it gives Facebook something that no other service on the web can offer.
As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook is also connected to a huge part of the web via the Open Graph. How many sites do you interact with that don’t have some kind of Facebook integration?
And that’s also not to mention all of the photos that people post on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram (which Mark Zuckerberg says will be added to the offering in time).
Again, it’s early, but I’m leaning towards kind of a big deal.
Overdue? Absolutely, but I’m not ready to dismiss the whole thing as “meh”.