2 Big Ways Facebook’s Graph Search Will Change The Internet

I’m normally bearish on over-hyped apps and features, and I’m a tough guy to impress. But Facebook’s new Graph Search product is awesome. I was lucky enough to get an early preview on my account and am blown away at how powerful and game-changing this feature is.

Graph Search is Facebook’s latest way of leveraging the billions of data points on their social graph, instantly determining the connections between them, and displaying a set of search results that’s far richer than anything you’ve ever seen.

Here’s an illustrative example – I’ve never been to Santa Barbara, and don’t have any friends who live there. So I typed “Restaurants in Santa Barbara that my friends have been to” and got some good results.

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Graph Search takes your query and traverses Facebook’s massive social graph to find search results that meet all of your criteria and are personalized to you. Just try that with Google – the results aren’t nearly as useful.

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My query to Google produced the same old stale results, while my query to Facebook produced two highly relavent hits that I’d be very likely to try. Google is just Google, but Facebook’s solution means I don’t need Foursquare, Yelp, Google, and a number of other services. Graph Search is in its infancy, but in the near term it’ll change how you search in two key ways:

Natural Language Search will become the default. Users will expect every search bar, from the article search on the NY Times to your enterprise Intranet, to accept and properly parse natural language queries. “Bob from Account Management’s phone number, at our DC office.” “Nate Silver’s blog posts about Baseball during 2011.” Siri brought this concept mainstream, but Graph Search executed it in a way that will make it a default expectation.

We’ll assume that all of our available data points will (and should) inform search results. When I search Google for “Hotels in Austin,” I’ll expect that it knows I have higher elite status with Hilton than I do at Marriott, prefer full service hotels, and won’t buy hotel wifi if there’s good LTE coverage in the area. So rather than show me a list of hotels, a good response might be “The Austin Hilton Downtown is a good choice and is known for having fast internet available. Plus there are five other similar choices nearby.” Search engines will draw from not only every query you’ve executed, but everything else that company and service knows about you, and will produce highly personalized results.

As Facebook continues to develop Graph Search, I expect that what others have been saying will also come true – it could be a viable competitor to OKCupid, Match, and corporate recruitment tools. But regardless of which products Graph Search ends up competing with, it’ll change the way we think of search for the next 5+ years.

Ways I Didn’t Jump The Shark This Year

Here are some ways I didn’t jump the shark this year:

  • I didn’t make jokes about Doomsday.
  • I didn’t talk about Festivus.
  • I didn’t make a reference to Baby It’s Cold Outside being about date rape.
  • I haven’t posted or retweeted any “Top X of 2012” lists.

You’re welcome, internet.

The Road to Digital Serfdom

The giants of the Internet – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft – are building toward a great war. The battle for our digital selves has just begun, but it may already be lost. They want our files, our thoughts, our dollars, and ultimately, our identities.

While the royals prepare for battle, we’re becoming mired in a state of digital serfdom, unable to “own” anything in the traditional sense, instead being granted a limited license to the books we read, the music we listen to, the photos we take, the words we write, and often even the files we create.

If I want to read digital books, I have to buy into Amazon’s kingdom. If I want to watch movies, I have to buy into Apple’s iTunes world. These technological advances have not been agnostic to your ability to choose, nor are they harmless to the competition we value so much as a society.

By bypassing traditional publishers in software and books, Apple and Amazon are opening up the market to new players and individuals, which is something we should celebrate. But in doing so, they’ve significantly weakened the negotiating position of everyone in the market. After all, Joe Coder can’t negotiate a better rate in the App Store, and Tracy Author can’t negotiate a better rate on Amazon. So while they have access to the market, they are passive subjects to the terms dictated by Amazon and Apple.

But open technologies and open markets don’t have the same adoption rate as their closed peers. You can sell on the Google Play store, but it’s harder to make money than on the Apple store, so accept their terms. You can sell a digital book independently, but you’ll probably make more on Amazon, so accept their terms.

For consumers, the situation is worse. Using closed technologies creates enormous switching costs that most consumers won’t bear, and eliminates the secondary market that often exists for physical goods. Do you want a Barnes and Noble Nook? Say goodbye to the years books you’ve “purchased” on Kindle, or be prepared to repurchase them from B&N. Want to try Amazon Instant Video? Don’t try it on your Apple TV, and don’t expect to take your iTunes video library with you.

Remember when you’d sell your old DVDs, books, and software at a garage or stoop sale? Try doing that with a Kindle book. No, seriously. Try transferring your license to read that book to a third party. You can’t. Try it with a movie from iTunes. Also impossible. Because you don’t own anything physical, that content has no value beyond what you derive from it. The photos you uploaded to Facebook/Instagram? Hope you made another copy, because that low fidelity version is all they keep, and it’s a royal pain to download a copy for yourself.

I’m an avid user of all the technologies mentioned above, and I think that “the cloud” has served to advance our lives in a lot of ways. But it didn’t come without drawbacks, and those drawbacks may start to outweigh the benefits.

Do you want your life of consumption and creation to be limited by the business prerogatives of the giants who control the Internet?

Me either. So what can we do about it?