Facebook Inc took the wraps off a new search tool on Tuesday that lets
people trawl their network of friends to find everything from
restaurants to movie recommendations, an improvement that's likely to
increase competition with review websites like Yelp and potentially even
The so-called graph search marks the company's biggest
foray into online search to date, though it displays only information
within the walls of the social network rather than links to sites
available across the Internet.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's
28-year-old founder and chief executive, introduced the new product at
the company's first major product launch since a rocky initial public
offering in May.
"Graph search is designed to take a precise query
and return to you the answer, not links to other places where you might
get the answer," Zuckerberg told reporters at its Menlo Park,
California, headquarters. "What you've seen today is a really different
product from anything else that's out there."
which have climbed 15 percent since the start of the year, slid 3
percent Tuesday to just above $30. The product news fell short of some
of the most optimistic predictions, which included speculation that the
social network would introduce its own smartphone or an Internet search
Dubbed "graph search" because Facebook refers to its
growing content, data and membership as the "social graph," the function
will be available at first only as a "beta," or trial, for just
hundreds of thousands of its billion-plus users.
It will let users
browse mainly photographs, people, places and members' interests.
Zuckerberg stressed that people can sort through only content that has
been shared with them, addressing potential privacy concerns.
in Yelp dived more than 6 percent on fears that Facebook's new
friends-based search concept will begin to draw users away from the
popular reviews site, which also lets people maintain a circle of
trusted friends. Google stock held steady.
Some analysts said
Facebook may be taking a tiny step toward eventually challenging Google
on its home turf, but said that was a much more challenging undertaking
and a long-term possibility at best.
Zuckerberg stressed that the new graph search did not encompass Internet searches, Google's specialty.
Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia said the product was inevitable. "We think
this will enable them to expand beyond display ads and ultimately
compete with Google," he said.
The promise and the threat
world's largest online social network, Facebook is moving to regain
Wall Street's confidence after the IPO and concerns about its long-term
Much of Facebook's recent focus has been on
making money from users who are migrating to mobile devices. Zuckerberg
said he could foresee a business in search over time, but analysts
advised caution. Facebook has come under fire numerous times for unclear
While Tuesday's revelation fell short of some
of the wilder guesses about what Facebook planned to reveal in its
highest-profile news briefing since its market debut, analysts said it
was overdue for a well-rounded search tool, given its current
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter argued
that recommendations from trusted friends were more valuable than from
strangers on the Web.
Facebook has a vast amount of information in
its social network, including roughly 200 billion photos. But some
analysts noted that the information each user has access to through a
network of friends is not always that extensive and could limit the
usefulness of Facebook's search offering.
individuals have a rich treasure trove of data that they can mine, but
the average person's storehouse of data is much sparser and has less
relevance to these queries," said Ray Valdes, an analyst for Gartner
Facebook's announcement underscores the increasing overlap
between social media and traditional Web search engines. Google, the
world's No. 1 search engine, launched the Google+ social network in 2011
and has been integrating data between Google+ into its search engine.
the works for more than a year, Facebook's new search feature will
initially be available for the English language only and for use on
Bringing the search tool to mobile devices, such as
smartphones, would probably require a change in design of the product,
noted Valdes. "It might be that they have to come up with innovation
like voice search, a Siri-like voice assistant to get it to work well on
mobile," he said, referring to the technology available on Apple Inc's
Facebook executives at the event showcased a variety of
different potential uses of the product, such as finding a date by
searching for single men who live in San Francisco and are from India,
and creating a holiday card by finding all the photos in which spouses
The search technology will use the "likes,"
"check-ins" and star-ratings that Facebook users have posted about
restaurants to determine the order of the recommendations displayed,
though Facebook search engineering head Lars Rasmussen noted that users'
comments about restaurants don't currently affect search result
Zuckerberg said the search tool was a work in progress
that would take the company years to fully build out. He pointed to a
variety of additional features on the horizon, such as support for
additional languages and the ability to incorporate data from
third-party services, like online music services, which connect to
"I don't necessarily think that a lot of people are
going to start coming to Facebook to do Web search because of this, that
isn't the intent," said Zuckerberg. "But in the event that you can't
find what you're looking for, it's really nice to have."
© Thomson Reuters 2012