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Facebook, Graph Search and what could happen next

About six weeks ago people started getting access to Facebook’s Graph Search. A lucky few who’d applied for the service, which is still in beta, suddenly found a new bar on the top of their Facebook page that looks something like this (when you click it):

Graph Search

Somewhen towards the end of January I got access to the Graph Search beta on my own account. This post is about my thoughts on Graph Search and what Facebook could do in the future.

A quick caveat: I have nothing to do with Facebook other than being a user. The following thoughts are based on nothing more than my being a user and a lover of the web. Ok?!

How Graph Search works

The Graph Search bar works a little like the Omnibox you find at the top of the Chrome browser. Except that it’s for Facebook rather than Google. There’s a pretty good explanation and some videos on the Graph Search page. That said, it’ll take you about 5 seconds on Google to find a million other posts explaining what it’s all about.

At the most basic, it’s just a decent search engine for Facebook, written to take advantage of some natural language queries. Typing “People who like cycling” and pressing enter will return a list of, gasp, people who like cycling. It’s also clever enough to return the most relevant results first – in this case, my friends who like cycling.

Getting slightly more complex, we could ask for “People who like Cycling and live in London”, or even “People who are my friends and like Cycling”. Both are pretty self explanatory, but in this case, the second is actually pretty interesting – I can see that in my network, 10 of my friends like cycling (aren’t you virtuous?).

Actually using Graph Search

Of course this means we can start running some pretty, um, interesting searches – something pointed out by a whole load of people, pretty immediately. See Tom Scott’s ‘Actual Facebook Graph Searches‘, for instance. For example, we could search for “Jewish people who like Bacon” (a good few, naughty naughty), or “People who work for Pepsi and that like Coca-Cola” (a lot of those), or anything similar.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realise you could get pretty creepy if you want to – you can tailor your searches based on sex, relationship status, age and location…

Single Friends

With a combination of the right search, we can discover a lot of things that people have put on their profile – perhaps under the assumption of pseudo-privacy – that are now available for anyone to *easily* find. And that’s the key here – it’s easy.

What does this mean?

Well firstly, I think some people are going to be pretty shocked when they realise what’s publicly searchable. And it wouldn’t surprise me if we see some employers searching through their employees to find out stuff they otherwise couldn’t (or couldn’t do easily) – however illegal or immoral this may be.

It also means you’re searchable on anything you’ve liked in the past, or by any of the apps that you’re using – and a number of other things. It was easy for me to find lists of friends (and friends of friends) with dubious political allegiances, or interesting ‘likes’. That time when your friend fraped you and clicked that you like the BNP? – It probably didn’t matter then, buried amongst the thousands of flippantly clicked ‘likes’ you’ve collected over the last few years, but now anyone searching for friends or employees that Like the BNP – boom. There you are. The same with all of you that Like fighting. Or hunting. Or whatever else friends, friends of friends, colleagues or potential employers may object to.

As with your likes, your Apps are also searchable. It was, I have to admit, a little funny to see (and props to whoever pointed it out!) you could Graph Search for people using Bang With Friends, the app that allows you to ‘anonymously find friends who are down for the night’. Not so anonymous anymore, right…?!

Is it all negative?

You know what, I don’t think so. It *does* make it easier to do stuff; one unified search for everything is certainly much simpler. I’ll admit I’m not much of a Facebook adventurer, but for those that do like a search and a wander, it’s going to be a great way to find friends of friends, people that share your likes and interests, live in your city, or the girl that serves you Starbucks before work every morning (good luck with that one).

I think it could also end up pretty useful in establishing connections with people that are one person removed. It was interesting to see how many friends of friends I have that are solicitors, accountants, doctors and the like. For people looking for specific help, it *could* open up Facebook considerably. That said, I doubt it will – I suspect most people will stick to Farmville (is it still popular?!).

Solicitors

What about the future?

Hear me out with this one, but I think their plan should be two-part, with one working to the benefit of the other.

Firstly: Pay With Facebook

So firstly Facebook launch an option to let people pay with Facebook. Not like in-game credits or anything we’ve seen so far, but a proper payment gateway system akin to PayPal.

As a developer, I pretty much hate PayPal – the docs are painful, confusing and all over the place. As consumers we’re seeing people complaining about PayPal’s ridiculousness over and again to the point where their President has been forced to reach out directly. As a result we’ve seen payment startups such as Stripe gaining traction quickly with their no-fuss, no-frills, simple as you like payment platforms (come to the UK soon, Stripe! Edit, 1st March: Yay!). And let’s not forget this is a massive market – PayPal did more than $40bn in transactions in the 4th quarter of 2012 alone and approximately $5.6bn in annual revenue last year.

The system should be super simple for developers and have rates similar to PayPal. With the Like button already in their back pocket, Facebook could tally likes and shares with product sales and offer useful stats to online shop owners to compliment what they already know (or should know) from their analytics. This would also, of course, give Facebook *much* better information on their users – now not just what they Like, but what they’re buying and where they shop as well.

I don’t think it’d be too hard to get users on board either. I see a lot of people moaning about not trusting Facebook, but I think these people are generally the ‘tech savvy’ crowd – most of the world aren’t. In a quick straw poll amongst my non techie friends and family, most of them said they’d be happy to pay with Facebook if it was easy, and they’d be happy to let Facebook store their credit card details.

Secondly: The Facebook Market

Snuggling up closely to the Graph Search and Pay With Facebook, the Facebook Market would complete the the ménage à trois.

At it’s most basic, and to begin with, The Facebook Market could be a massive online garage sale and pinboard. Think somewhere between eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle, and you’re on the right lines. Using Graph Search you could type in “Friends of friends who are selling a wetsuit”, or “People who are selling a 1999 Ford Ka for less than £1000″, or maybe even “Bartending jobs in London”. When the results come back it’d list your friends and friends of friends first.

A simple transaction (perhaps with some kind of escrow function) could be set up through the Pay With Facebook account (that you’ve had to open in order to sell), and as a buyer you’ll add your details because it’s easier for your friend, the seller to get the money straight to their bank. Better still, even if I’m not buying from a friend, with a face behind every purchase even those people not in my network are easier to to check as genuine.

Again, the market is massive. The PayPal figure I quoted above ($5.6bn) represents only 40% of eBay’s revenue for 2012. Craiglist gets more than 50 billion pageviews a month and more than 100 million ads posted.

Moving forward, brands and businesses could set up online stores listing products, all tightly integrated into the Graph Search. Think Amazon’s marketplace, but on Facebook. Imagine, “iPhone 5 for sale for less than £500″, or “Buy tickets for the London Dungeon on Saturday 3rd of March” and dropping onto the correct page, or being returned product listings from all the relevant shops. Everything is closely tied to your Pay With Facebook account. Click here to Pay With Facebook – finally fCommerce is actually useful.

Going mobile

As well as the online market and payment platform, why not integrate everything into the mobile app as well – imagine being able to make and accept payments using your Facebook account from your mobile phone? I mean, how many people have Facebook on their smartphone – I’d guess the numbers are huge – it’s got to be one of the first apps people install? You could revolutionise industries in the same way Square is trying to do, but without the hoops of having to get people on board – they’re already there! No more apps to install! Sure, I can do this already with my PayPal app, or my bank account app, but I don’t. It’d almost be *safe* to assume if two people have a smartphone, the payment could be made through Facebook.

To conclude…

None of this may ever happen – but if it did – you’d be rattling the cages of PayPal, eBay, Craiglist and Amazon – and it’d probably stick in Google’s craw pretty heavily as well. What if people didn’t use Google to find products? Why go click on Google’s ads or listings, when I can find products whilst I’m chatting to my mum and tending my crops (still don’t know if people are playing Farmville) – hell, my friends may even be selling something I want. Facebook’s revenue stream would consist of more than the ad business and Wall Street would probably be pretty happy. I don’t think it’d be easy, especially on such a large scale. But we all know Facebook have a lot of money to play with… so it’s fun to imagine.

If you’ve read this far (thanks!) – what do YOU think? Let me know in the comments…

3 Comments

  1. Tippers

    Really interesting blog… The idea of a Facebook Market is a real visional slice of the future I think. A lot of SellerDeck customers I talk with are finally coming around to the idea of being social and using these tools for commerce but it still surprises me how many are loath to use Facebook as part of their business. However, very very few are ignoring eBay and Amazon integration.

    For me, Facebook is the obvious tool. If I buy, let’s say, a new guitar online and then post ‘I just bought this 1967 Fender from XYZ Instruments’, with a link onto my facebook wall, no doubt some of my like minded friends will be interested to see. Also, all those extra links/shares will be positive SEO. Combine that with the graph search and facebook payments, that’s powerful!

    Good blog!

  2. Maciej @ Brandignity

    Regardless, I think it is a direction that Facebook needs to take. Once the search feature is ironed out and marketers really start to utilize for lead generation Facebook will find a solid monetization model that could pull in serious revenues.

  3. Ben

    @tipps – cheers!
    @Maciej – Yep, totally agree.

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