Facebook unveils Graph Search, squashing mobile OS speculation
Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) confounded expectations at its much-anticipated Tuesday media event, quieting rumors it would launch its own smartphone, mobile operating system or new mobile services by introducing a new Graph Search tool designed to offer users deeper insight into their social media relationships.
Graph Search indexes a wealth of Facebook data.
Calling Graph Search "the third pillar" of Facebook's platform alongside its News Feed and Timeline features, co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new service indexes a wealth of Facebook data including friend connections, location updates, 'likes,' comments and tags, helping users identify potential new contacts, recommended music and videos, friend-endorsed restaurants and other content.
"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected, and we do this by giving people tools so they can map out the stories of their lives," Zuckerberg said, according to The Verge's live blog of the event. "We believe in this concept called the social graph, [which is] the sum of all these connections. That map can be the basis for all kinds of services."
Zuckerberg stressed that Graph Search--developed in collaboration with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing--is not synonymous with conventional Web searches. "Graph Search is designed to show you the answer and not links to answers," he said--for example, which of a user's friends live in San Francisco, which of them like fencing and which match both criteria.
Facebook will introduce a blue Graph Search bar that runs across the top of the user's page--instead of inputting keywords, users can type specific questions or query parameters, like "Dentists liked by my friends" or "Friends of friends who are single men in San Francisco." A persistent "Refine This Search" box hangs on the side of the screen at all times, enabling users to modify search equations on the fly.
Facebook adds that while people, photos, places, and interests form the foundation of Graph Search, all results are privacy-aware, meaning users can only search content already shared with them or content that is publicly available.
For now, Facebook is rolling out Graph Search as a limited beta release for the desktop, launching to the public over the coming weeks and months. Zuckerberg said Facebook's mobile engineering staff is "busy revamping" its mobile apps to incorporate the Graph Search feature, adding "It's hard for us to estimate how long [mobile integration] will take."
Zuckerberg also said Facebook will likely expand the pool of data sources shaping Graph Search results over time, perhaps leveraging data from Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing application it acquired last year. "Instagram data is on the list of things we will one day get to," he said. "It's so clear how much stuff out there you'd want to have in a product like this."
Julien Blin, directing analyst of Consumer Electronics & Mobile Broadband at Infonetics Research, believes Graph Search could pose a serious threat to competing service providers ranging from to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) to Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) to Yelp, especially if Facebook were to introduce its rumored Want button to simplify mobile purchases. "You can clearly see how [Facebook] could monetize on mobile," Blin told FierceMobileContent. "Imagine a case where someone is looking for friends who bought shoes in San Francisco. They could pull up a list of nearby stores with comments from friends, or even send a gift."
The introduction of Graph Search follows days of speculation that Facebook would unveil a branded smartphone or mobile OS designed to power devices from multiple manufacturing partners. While Facebook has repeatedly denied plans to expand its business into the mobile hardware segment, a recent TechCrunch report once again reignited the rumors.
Blin said the speculation is likely not going away, although he still questions why Facebook would want to enter the smartphone arena in the first place. "I don't see what's in it for Facebook," Blin said. "Zuckerberg wants an agnostic approach. The way to win is by putting Facebook on multiple platforms across multiple OEMs."
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