Facebook’s Graph Search Inspires Excitement or Caution… But Which?

In Dave Pell’s NextDraft newsletter on Tuesday was a note about Facebook’s new search functionality:

Graph Search will enable you to look for things like: people who like cycling and live in your town, photos of friends during a certain year, restaurants in Chicago that your friends from Chicago have liked. Facebook wants to help you meet people, decide where to go, choose what to read or watch, and much more.

(First thing: Sign up for NextDraft here — you won’t regret it. It’s full of particularly interesting news items, delivered with humor and insight, quick and simple, directly to your inbox. I am rapidly decreasing the amount of email I’m willing to get, but NextDraft is a keeper.)

Now about this whole Facebook search thing…

Facebook’s introduction to Graph Search is pretty compelling, and the marketing is juicy. This piece in the Atlantic on Graph Search functionality just barely mentions privacy concerns, and focuses heavily on competitive advantage. It’s easy to see how something like Graph Search could destroy platforms like OkCupid and Yelp, and how it could provide Facebook with a major advantage over Google Plus. (That note about Bing search results being included in Graph Search when Facebook results aren’t available is a huge zinger.)

Here are some of the most major issues and questions on my mind at the moment. I’m curious to know if you have items to add to the list, and what you think about them.

Is this company looking out for me? As a personal user, and as a business user who isn’t currently paying Facebook for more reach, I know that Facebook is not in business to wow and support me. They have an interest in keeping me “happy enough” — but they have proven time and again that their first priority is their advertisers, not their users. Personal disgruntlement aside, addressing the concerns of their advertisers first does keep them in business and allow them to continue offering a valuable free service to millions of users… and I don’t think they are as cavalier about their users’ interests as some complainers would have you believe. But there’s still something tweaked about this angle that bothers me from a healthy and connective standpoint.

How do we decide to use Facebook, as small and micro- businesses? Do we use it on a personal basis as much as we use it to reach out to customers and potential customers? (And if we don’t use it on a personal basis ourselves, is it subtle, hypocritical encouragement to cater to our customers who do so?) Do we think about the repercussions of using our customers’ available Facebook information before we act? Do we think about what supporting Facebook means, in larger terms, or do we just leap on the bandwagon because its mainstream reach can be so valuable?

What are the potential uses — and abuses — of this functionality? I can imagine some interesting scenarios here. Business owners may not even have to search for similarities and sub-tribes in their collection of followers; Facebook may give them a portal that shows the most popular likes and themes. I may be able to look at the statistics for a business fan page and see, for instance, that the most popular topics among that page’s fans are bicycling, superhero movies, and eating at Quizno’s. This sounds like an incredible opportunity to provide value to my followers, and at the same time, I know there must be potential for misuse as well. The fact that I haven’t thought of specific dangers off-hand makes me feel… uneasy.

Does this allow us to connect as real people, better than we could before? Graph Search will no doubt make it easier for users to find business content, and to find out that certain businesses exist at all. It could make the search for information far more about honest word of mouth and personal connection than about clever marketing tactics. But will it?

That’s the question: But will it?

It’s amazing to consider the opportunities inherent in such a wealth of information and potential connection — and it’s discouraging that it comes packaged with a social network that has behaved badly in regards to its users’ privacy in the past. That said, Facebook may simply have had more opportunities than most companies to step on its users’ toes. But there are also zillions of companies out there that have treated their users’ information with respect and consideration, so why should we expect less from a company as huge and far-reaching as Facebook is? Should they be held closer to that standard, because of their size?

I’m unwilling to look solely at Facebook’s benefits to my business’s bottom line, because (especially at Upmarket) we know that the bottom line isn’t actually the bottom line. Numbers matter, yes. But we believe that people matter more.

Where do you draw the line with a company that has behaved badly in the past — as a personal user, and as a business user?

(Thanks to Dave Pell for the heads up and assorted links!)

About Megan Elizabeth Morris

Megan Elizabeth Morris -- also known as MEM -- is the Managing Editor for Upmarket Magazine. She connects remarkable contributors with great new audiences, and occasionally contributes herself. If you’re a talented content creator looking to build community around an outside-the-box business message, be sure to drop her a note or check out our submission guidelines. You can also find out more about MEM on her personal info page or by following her on Twitter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DickCarlson Dick Carlson

    Oh, I’m sure that you can trust in FB to be careful not to do anything that might put our personal data at risk just to make a buck. It would have to be for millions of bucks.

    • http://ideaschema.com/MEM Megan Elizabeth Morris

      Somehow I don’t think an opportunity for Facebook to make more millions of bucks is not going to be too hard for them to find! I wish it was as simple as charging each of us a few bucks to use it, and at the same time, I doubt that could possibly be the case. 0.o