Image courtesy: Facebook
Image courtesy: Facebook

Online Search is mutating

By Sorab Ghaswalla

Mumbai, January 18, 2013

Social network Facebook’s new Search called Graph Search was the hot topic of discussion of the past few days. First was the anticipation as everybody and his dog waited to see what Facebook was going to announce on January 15. After all, anything and everything that these major online players – FB, Google and Apple – do becomes news.
Once the suspense was over, up next for debate was – (1) What exactly is Graph Search (2) Need Google worry?
Before I go on with the rest of this column, for those of you who have still not fully understood what the new Search by FB is, here’s an explanation: As all of us have realised, Facebook can no longer be confined within the definition of a social network. It’s grown to be more than that because of what its members have been doing since its inception many moons ago. I won’t go into the details here but ask readers to just try and digest this one nugget of information acknowledged by none other than the Chief Executive Officer of FB, Mark Zuckerberg himself. Over 300 billion photos have already been uploaded so far by the over 1 billion users around the world; and the figure is climbing.
Any organisation that’s sitting on such a huge data bank will be tempted to do something about it. FB already had components of Search before launching Graph Search; you could, for example, search for friends or people you know but are not connected to. So Graph Search is a mere culmination of a process that exists within the innards of the social networking site.
In fact, that’s what Graph Search is all about. Eventually, this search will start covering everything on FB, from posts to applications, every tiny bit of data that exists within the servers of FB can be searched for by members. So once Graph Search is under full steam, a FB user can search for location-based details like the best Italian restaurants in Los Angeles (of course, the data would have already been inputted by some other FB users), the weather in April in New Delhi, and so on.
Now comes the crucial part. Graph Search is NOT web search or organic search (read Google search). As a precaution, just in case your query on Graph Search throws up nothing, FB has gone and tied up with Microsoft’s Search Engine Bing. This will then give you your answers.
And so we come to the next question – should Google be afraid of Graph Search? I sense it’s too early in the day to answer that question. But here’s a thing – there are already early signs that organic search, as we know it, has become “old”. Online users now want search to be more sophisticated.
Coincidentally, barely a week before the launch of Graph Search, online monitoring agency
comScore released a report that made search engines sit up. It said its research had shown that the total core organic desktop search was down on a year over year basis for the fourth straight month in December 2012. Now how’s that! Imagine. Clearly, not as many people are using search engines as they were a year ago.
So have people become wiser, cleverer or plain lazy. The answer is that online search is getting to be more vertical, just like Graph Search. In layman’s terms, users are no longer content getting random answers based on a few keywords they have put in to get replies to their questions. They want search to get more specific.
To cater to this new segment, there are many applications out there that provide you vertical
search. I shall illustrate with example. Let’s say you are hungry right now and feel like calling for a Chinese takeaway. Say you are located in Karol Bagh, New Delhi, and want to know the takeout joints in your area. One way of doing it would be keying in the keywords – Chinese + Karol Bagh, in your organic search engine, and then leave it to the gods of search to throw up the results. You may get your answer finally but perhaps after scanning through a multitude of web pages.
This is where vertical search engines come in. Let’s say you have an application on your smartphone that caters to just eateries around the world. You key in the same search terms here and the chances are high (as compared to an organic search engine) that you will hit pay dirt almost immediately. That’s what vertical search engines do.
Again, coincidentally, two days before FB announced Graph Search, my website wrote of a new smartphone app called Grokr, which does exactly what Graph Search does, and more. If you have Grokr on your phone, be it where you are located, you can check out the traffic and weather conditions in your locality, the locations of cinema halls, museums, and even restaurants serving specialised cuisine.
So here we are. Search is increasingly going from global to local. Just like news. It’s getting more intelligent. And search is also finally factoring in the one most crucial element – you, the individual.
Previous columns by Sorab Ghaswalla

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