Facebook's Graph Search fails to inspire users or investors

The social media giant's new search facility offers 'little real utility' and adds to privacy fears

LAST UPDATED AT 12:04 ON Wed 16 Jan 2013

FACEBOOK has unveiled Graph Search, a search facility that allows users to find people, photos, places and other content stored on the world's biggest social media platform. However, users and analysts were underwhelmed and the announcement triggered a three per cent drop in its stock price.

Expectations were running high at last night's "mystery event", with some experts predicting the company would launch a Facebook phone to rival Apple's iPhone. But the unveiling of Graph Search – a tool the company says will allow users to "ask real time questions to find friends and information within the Facebook universe" - left many commentators disappointed.

Today, Facebook's share price was down below the $30 mark - a fact that TechCrunch attributes to yesterdays' launch failing "to live up to the hype".

The new facility allows Facebook users to search out information based on its association with other people. For example, if you are visiting Bradford and want a curry, you could turn on Facebook and ask it for 'the curry houses in Bradford my friends like'. Alternatively, you could ask for a list of hotels in Amsterdam your friends like to stay at.

Robin Grant, the founder of global social media agency, We Are Social, told The Drum that Graph Search's immediate impact would be "very small". He said it appeared to have been built "without any reference to user need" and at present offered "little real utility".

Eden Zoller, an analyst at Ovum, said the system's ability to "leverage member data" to give advertisers "more targeted, personalised advertising opportunities" could get Facebook into hot water over privacy issues again. Zoller points out that Facebook has a "habit of pushing privacy to the limits of what is acceptable" and said it would have to "tread carefully" with its new search facility.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, William Henderson said the real problem with Graph Search is that Facebook doesn't properly understand how we perceive other people – friendships are more complicated than a shared interest in, say, potholing, he writes. "A non-human medium is never going to be the final administrator of human interaction."

Writing in Forbes, Elise Ackerman was more positive about Graph Search, saying it may not prove to be a huge success in its own right, but it does herald the direction search engines should be headed. People have been saying for years there should be more to search facilities than "key words and page links" and now there will be, she writes. "For the first time, a person's relationship to a piece of information is going to help determine how relevant that information is — and this relationship will be transparent to everyone". · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.