Today’s announcement of Facebook Graph Search looks promising.
From an advertiser and investor perspective, narrow though that may be, it suggests that Facebook will indeed add a compelling and intuitive offshoot of functionality that it can effectively monetize. That’s especially important as Facebook learns to monetize in a more intuitive way; many efforts to date have been awkward.
The limitation here is that for this to contribute incrementally to profit, people will have to spend more time on Facebook than they already do. User attention is finite — there are literally only so many waking hours that people can spend looking in the general direction of content that might have ads nearby. So really, how much upside does this create for Facebook, financially? Some. Not lots.
Without having a chance to play with the tool, it looks from here like it will be fun and easy to use, leveraging some state-of-the-art natural language capabilities. It will put some power and creativity in users’ hands. It will also be in tune with the multiplicity of forms of content — written, visual, audio, etc.
It amounts to Facebook refining and improving the experience for those who are already committed to life inside its walled garden.
The major threat to Facebook is not now, and has never been, that it can’t get good enough at being the leading social network.
The major threat is that people’s appetite for sharing their lives and content on Facebook — the fodder for all that goes on inside — will wane or dissipate. That may not seem imminent. But all the addition of Facebook Graph Search to FB’s overall feature set does is to rest even more weight on one — potentially shaky — foundation. User trust, willingness to be open, willingness to build large lists of “friends” and confide in them as if they were the closest of confidantes. Let’s face it: the searches would look pretty stupid if you only had 4-5 Facebook friends, and if those friends were taciturn about sharing anything.
So Facebook’s usefulness is premised on people building lists of hundreds and hundreds of friends, and most of those people sharing a high volume of their sentiments, content, and behavior. That may very well continue. None of this works very well if people choose to stop friending and sharing.