What (if anything) is Graph Search about?


Will Facebook’s Graph Search help B&Bs?

As part of its continuing effort to convince people that it really can generate the sort of profits that will justify its huge stock market valuation, Facebook is now trailing its latest wheeze: Graph Search. But what is it and what might it mean for owners of B&Bs, guest houses, cottages and independent hotels?

The fundamental motive behind Graph Search is this: exploiting Facebook’s one billion-plus user base to provide you with results that are appropriate to you, based on what people you are already connected to have liked (or, to be more accurate, “liked”) in the past. So, for instance, if you’re travelling to London and want B&B recommendations, Facebook will serve search results for B&Bs that friends (and friends of friends) have been to.

Heather Kelly, of CNN, provides a succinct description of the concept (with a dash of droll humour): “Every post you make reveals slivers about who you are and what you like… Technically, Facebook should be able to detect if you like cats, even if you didn’t take the time to hit the Like button for a page called “cats.” But it can’t do this without rightfully alarming its already privacy-sensitive 1 billion users.

Searching for people presents its own set of issues. Graph Search scours your profile information so people can find you based on what school you went to, where you work, your religion or who your friends are. Searches can be refined using filters for every available profile field, including likes, work info, family connections and the Facebook apps people use. Next time you need to find single male models in Omaha who are Buddhist and speak Spanish, go straight to the Facebook Graph Search.”

Presumably, Facebook hopes that once Graph Search proves its worth, companies will be prepared to advertise alongside its results, thus earning it some of the revenue that has made Google so very rich. But, as Kelly notes, there are a lot of issues to be addressed first: “Much of Graph Search’s power and problems start with the Like button. People just don’t wield the Like as often and as discerningly as is needed to turn Facebook into a useful recommendation tool. It’s also too easy for those deep-pocketed companies who can afford to maintain a social media presence to buy more likes and come out on top.”

Mind you, it’s early days. Graph Search is still in the trial phase, so presumably Facebook will work hard to refine it as it evolves. It might become more useful to travellers (and hoteliers) when results don’t just include brief comments by friends of the “loved the breakfast” variety, but links to more formal info like tourist board star-ratings and map locations.

It’ll be interesting to see if Graph Search takes off. If it does, it could prove significant for property owners. So far, the jury’s out. I’ll leave the last word to Heather Kelly: “Graph Search introduces new ways to search Facebook that are great in theory. The tool works amazingly well in the idealized Zuckerbergian world where all Facebook members are real people who complete their profiles honestly and update them frequently. But in reality, the data people share on Facebook is flawed and incomplete. And so is Graph Search, at least for now.”

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