How Facebook Made Me Search In Strange New Ways

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder who I know that has gone skydiving, lived in France, eats Chinese food, while mixing a smoothie with their new Ninja NJ600 Blender?”

Apparently, this is exactly how we should be thinking. At least, the way Facebook sees it.

Not to undermine that this could likely become something very valuable to users and marketers alike, it just seems like Facebook keeps solving problems that none of us knew we ever had before.

You see, when search originally started with engines, it was this active form of discovery. Some life event or moment of curiosity caused the “search” action to be taken.

Facebook, and other social networks alike, were different, however. These mediums brought along a much more passive form of discovery. My discovery was not because something influenced my life. It was simply due to my connection with my network. Based on nothing more then “hanging out” on the network, I would passively discover content. I wrote about this idea previously here.

And now, we have a whole new way of searching through this passive discovery.

Facebook in Google Colors

Is Facebook Graph Search A Google Replacement?

With this new Graph Search, I have read that Facebook is going to be “killing” Google and replacing certain aspects for users.

Perhaps this will happen one day, but not in its current form. Facebook will not kill Google in the immediate future because of a fundamental flaw in Graph Search; it doesn’t contain all the Webs’ information.

Is this to say that they can’t gather it? No. In fact, if any one company is positioned to do that, I would argue Facebook would be it.

Where They Miss The Boat

The way I would define what social search is supposed to be would be as follows:

“Social search is a means of uncovering information, to fill a knowledge gap taking into account crowd sourced information from your network, which contains information from a reputable source within your network, giving more of a credible touch to the content.”

I had the chance to test out Graph Search, and Facebook does not appear to do any of this (I owe a big thank you to Mark Ginsberg for trusting me not to post random thoughts on his behalf). You may argue that there is Bing integration? Yes, it is present, but the two seem very independent from each other. Graph Search doesn’t layer over search results in ways that Google+ does to Google.

 how to build a paper airplane

There Is Some Value To Graph Search

Based on my testing, and as a marketer, I see a lot of future value in graph search. For example, quantifiably gathering data for persona building is an incredible idea. Not to mention the possibilities in link building outreach and Relationship Building.

But there are a few things I think Facebook seriously needs to consider improving.

Where Can Facebook Graph Search Improve?

1.  General Searching

Currently, and I hope this changes soon, Facebook is indexing the content on “the graph.” This means other pages and interests within Facebook. But that isn’t necessarily what I was looking for.

 friends talking about facebook graph

What Facebook has created appears to be some strange version of Boolean logic that allows a way to filter down what people connect themselves to on the Graph. I question how valuable something like this ever could be without ever “scraping” and “indexing” status updates and captions. I, for one, do not like or connect to every page I associate with offline.

Take for example a search on the show “Homeland.” Using Mark’s access again, I could not find myself at all because I didn’t actually “like” the page.

It seems as though this functionality is rolling out soon, but it’s not here yet.

status updates with homeland

Here is the strange part. When I search on Bing, that post that I wrote about does show up. 

bing search homeland

Seems like there is a major disconnect between the two.

2.  Image Search

I was excited to be able to search for “fun” images. But this, again, was a big let down so far because of the tagging component.

Turns out, my images are un-searchable for this exact reason. They will not show up in searches that contain “Chicago” since I don’t geo tag them. They will also not show up in searches having to do with “ninja” since Facebook isn’t indexing the actual caption associate with the image, which seems strange to me since that is the main functionality for Instagram, and they own it.

 little ninja man instagram

3.  Facebook Auto Complete

Facebook has this form of auto complete that really irks me. In nearly every instance I tried, Facebook did not let me actually do the search I wanted. It miraculously changed it to what they could provide and what they felt was most appropriate.

 friends who have cookies in images

In the above example, I wanted to search images that have cookies in them, but Facebook somehow interpreted that to mean “I want to see a list of friends who liked the page for Chocolate Chip Cookies, and are also in my images”, which seems like a rather strange request, anyway, and for sure not what I was looking for. Danny also expressed his frustration on this here.

4.  Facebook Is Just Plain Wrong At Times

I also discovered that Facebook appears to be interpreting things incorrectly.

I did a search for “Friends of Aaron Friedman who are Violinists” because I know of one in particular who actually is and builds them (cool, I know). What I got were the below two results. One is my friend Ari Nahmani.

ari nahmani violinist


I asked Ari if he was in fact a violinist…  he isn’t.

chat with Ari Nahmani violin

Turns out, his uncle is a musician and he “liked” the fan page. Somehow Facebook interpreted that as him being a violinist rather than a marketer. And no, my friend who builds them did not come up in a search.

My Advice To Facebook & Everyone

For Facebook: 

If this is truly going to become a search engine replacement, then it is going to have to function as an actual search engine. Consider expanding the search functionality to include status updates, image captions and 3rd party applications. The information that you can glean from a friend on vacation and what they wrote about in their updates is invaluable.

For Marketers:

I can’t stress enough the importance of actually getting yourself and your clients on the Graph. If you want to start appearing in these searches and capturing this valuable equity, then connecting to pages you want your brand associated with is more important than ever. Find what matches your brand and make those connections.

As this expands and becomes more robust, I imagine some of these issues may correct themselves, as I mentioned above. But, why not stay ahead of the curve and make those connections on the Graph for yourself now?

After all, aren’t connections what social media is all about?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Director of SEO for Kahena, a Digital Marketing agency focused on sustainable SEO, vertical search optimization, and online advertising. At KDM, he leads strategy for all accounts and is experienced in SEO ranging from local, digital marketing, to national and global search marketing. Aaron also specializes in social media strategy development and its convergence with SEO, content creation, image and video optimization. Follow him on Twitter @AaronFriedman.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Ari Nahmani

    Great review! And not just because my big ol’ head makes a cameo. :)

  • prateek bansal

    You are exactly right. Things are changing and Facebook is going to be the Next Google. It will not only affect google but also everyone. Check this article. I have mentioned in here why Facebook Graph search is a Dangerous update.

  • Tyler Hakes

    I still really feel in the dark about Facebook’s Graph Search. I’ve read a number of articles talking about what it lacks, but they still always end with an urgent push to make sure you’re using it (even though it sucks, apparently).

    My question is: What *does* Graph provide? So far I’ve only read about what it’s lacking.

  • Aaron Friedman

    Well, the push to use it is the 1M people that are on the network, right? I think that alone makes the case. But the second point is that even though it lacks now, its not goign to be lacking forever if it wants to stay relevant.

    I think its valuable in the end to stay ahead of the curve while we can.

  • blankPixels

    Quite surprised with #2. I thought captions would be searchable too.

    Thanks for the very detailed review! :)

  • Michael A. Robson

    The idea is that Facebook should be the one go-to Search for finding people (any people), and Google remains the go-to Search for things.

    This is interesting because up to this point, Facebook was a place to organize and interact with people you ALREADY KNOW. The only way Search makes sense is if Facebook now becomes (yes, like a dating site) a place you can meet new people (to form all forms of relationships).

    When it comes to the Yelp stuff, yes, as a secondary byproduct, Facebook is now a great way to find a restaurant, but, because it’s less focused, I’m not sure how useful that search is. After all, Yelp exists, and it’s an app on your phone. And already has Facebook Connect, etc.

  • Eli Edri
  • Eli Edri
  • Nganguem Victor

    j’aime ça

  • Tyler Hakes

    I “get it” from a high-level strategy prospective. It’s essentially
    the same approach as what Google is trying to do by integrating G+ data
    into search, right? E.g., if I’m looking for a new barber in my area,
    the barbers that my friends use/like/endorse also matter in my search.

    FB and Google essentially have either side of the same puzzle and they’re trying to build out a product that will give them the other side.

    But, I really question whether it will ever come to fruition as a true
    contender for finding relevant information (general information) within
    the confines of a single site.

    We’ve seen Facebook make plays in the past to turn their site into an all-inclusive web portal where you essentially never have to leave their site to access/find anything on the web (a la AOL in the 90s). But, I’m really just not buying that as a possibility or reality. The web is too big and too open for anyone to live their life inside the Facebook bubble.

    Obviously, that’s my opinion. I’m interested to hear what other people think about it — and if I have the right idea of their bigger vision.

    To your point though, yes, they obviously have web traffic, but how many people will actually use the graph search in the way that Facebook expects them to, i.e., for discovering businesses, etc (see my argument above)?

  • Tyler Hakes

    I think the vision is bigger than that, though.

    It’s not just about finding people, but finding how people interact with things. e.g., how many of my friends like this business? Or, what are some bands that my friends like? (see the Graph demo page).

    As I said below in my response to Aaron, I’m just not buying this as a viable or useful product that will catch on. We know from looking at Facebook’s moves in the past that they want to work as essentially a captive portal for web traffic. Facebook *IS* your way to connect with everything on the entire Internet, in their ideal world. But, we live in an age of the open net, and I don’t think people will by and large jump onto that boat.

    Thoughts? I’m not proclaiming to be an expert here. But, these are my observations and thoughts from what I know. (For the record, I don’t have Graph search).

  • Aaron Friedman

    I was too actually. I expect that this will evolve. Thanks for reading! :)

  • Szilard Butta

    Thank you for this awesome article.
    There are tons of SEO/Marketing questions that come into my mind right now, regarding the “revolutionary facebook search engine”. But I also like to think non-professional sometimes, like a “civilian”. With this whole fuss about social being connected to search, both on Google and Facebook-Bing side… does this mean our society is heading towards a direction where we will never discover something new by ourselves, we will never take the “risk” to check out a new restaurant or dentist, unless our friends “approved it”? If I am hesitating between a trip to Portugal vs Spain, and 3 friends of mine were in Spain – shared it, liked it, posted it, tagged it – but none of them in Portugal and not even their friends that I am not connected with, does that mean Portugal stands no chance in coming up in search results for: “portugal or spain fun vacation”?
    Getting to your nr.4, after the big, official, worldwide, open-for-everyone launch that is going to happen somewhere in the foggy future, Graph Search will be at a state Google was back in ~2000. They will have to “dance”, update, hot-fix, have a Facebook version of Matt Cutts and his team in order for us to be allowed to even mention Graph Search as a danger to Google Search. And that is at least 5-6 years during which a now 12 year old prodigy could grow up and come up with something so new none of us can even fathom about right now.

  • Jerry Nordstrom

    I think there are a great number of people like myself that simply do not want to have my social network influence the results of my searches. The flaw I see in holistic search results is the assumption that just because I am socially connected to somebody I would want to have their preferences, comments, or endorsements influence my search results. I don’t, or at least I want the obvious choice to turn it off and that is what Google does very well by offering the “Hide personal Results” toggle.

    This is may be off on a tangent, but I feel relevant to the future of the social graph. I have a hope that consumers will one day wake up and demand that they must own their digital identities. Ownership and use of my “public data” is already being exploited in every way possible. The model for modern social sites like Facebook and Google is to offer its users “free services” in exchange for collecting and using their personal digital profile in any way they wish. I don’t blame companies for doing so as it has resulted in fabulous profits, but the end game is not clear to the users, they are not aware of what they are giving away.

    At one point in time your digital profile will be so complete it will be used for much more than useful searches, it will be (and is being) used by employers, lenders, schools, political orgs, The Government, marketers etc to make decisions that have a deep impact on YOU in the physical world. Yet – You have no access to this data? You have no control over this data? You have no understanding of who has it and how its being shared or used? If you have no control over the complete digital you what form of “free society” do you live in?

    If consumers (or perhaps legislating bodies) make a stand and demand individuals have control over their digital identities and that online businesses must offer a clear opt-in option as to what data belongs to the individual and which belongs to the company, then models such a Facebook may quickly fall apart.


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