Facebook's New Toy Is Bigger Than You Think


The market left Facebook's "Graph Search" media event unimpressed.

There was no Facebook smartphone unveiled. The fruits of bar-raising monetization proved to be a dry harvest. Guests weren't handed glitter wands and bedazzled unicorns.

Marvin the Martian -- the gladiator from Mars bent on blowing up Earth in the Bugs Bunny cartoon -- summed it all up perfectly decades ago: "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed be an Earth-shattering kaboom!"

CEO Mark Zuckerberg also didn't do the company any favors in describing the horribly named platform.

"This could potentially be a business over time, but for now we've really focused on building out this user experience," he said.

Wait. This isn't a business now? Why were tech watchers teased with a "come and see what we're building" teaser for something that may be years away from paying off? Where's my unicorn shimmering with hot-fix rhinestones?

Begging to differ with indifference
The market shrugged off the announcement. Facebook shares slipped 3% yesterday. Google -- the company whose livelihood would be most at stake with a revolutionary disruptor in search -- inched higher.

Then there's the name. Graph Search? It sounds more like a Microsoft Word function than a cutting edge platform. Tech and financial journalists can't even agree if the term should be capitalized or not. Facebook did in its press release, so I'll go with that -- for now.

However, Graph Search is bigger than the lack of market reaction suggests. Facebook has something here. People just need to start using it as it rolls out beta, and the leading social networking website operator needs to do a better job of selling its merits.

Tapping into the posted information of friends doesn't seem like much of a game-changer. The announcement's accompanying video begins with someone tapping in a search for "my friends who like trail running" followed by similar requests for road trips and dancing. Big deal. You should probably know that by now. A request for "bands my friends listen to" or trying to ferret out sushi restaurants frequented by your friends is little more than a novelty. The Internet's already doing that better through Pandora and Yelp, respectively.

Are you going to trust what your friends are listening to or what Pandora has cultivated for years by analyzing what folks with similar tastes to yours enjoy hearing next? Until Facebook starts encouraging venue ratings on its site -- and that's probably coming sooner rather than later -- why would eatery check-ins matter more than detailed Yelp reviews provided by a wider local pool of palates?

However, the Holy Grail of Graph Search -- one that isn't really being played up -- is the ability to search "friends of friends" for queries. This is where things really get interesting.

Heard it from a friend who...
Now Facebook is proud of having a billion active users and a trillion active connections between them. However, the real net is taking the Kevin Bacon to the next degree.

Graph Search allows you to mine for data from friends of your friends.

Let's say you have an interview at a local company. Why not search for "friends of friends" who work there? Ask your friend to make the connection, helping you get a feel for what you may be in for or perhaps a foot in the door.

Let's say that you want to tailgate before a minor league game, but none of your friends are interested. Boom! Tap into "friends of friends" to find like-minded souls and perhaps a new sporting buddy.

What's that? You're single? Perfect. There's nothing wrong with online dating or matchmaking services, but how about searching through your friends of friends for folks that are single and share your political views, religious leanings, or perhaps someone that also thinks that Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is awesome.

You've got a leak. Are you going to crack open the virtual yellow pages? Why not search for friends of friends who just happen to be roofers.

Engaging with your friends first and broadening your reach will make Facebook stickier, and it will result in a richer vetting experience than trusting Google's bland search box.

Searching for answers
Graph Search may not seem so cool right now, and the name isn't helping. Since Zuckerberg revealed that he had a team working on search this past summer, it's safe to say that our expectations were elevated.

However, isn't yesterday's announcement the seed for what you were hoping for? When Facebook turns on ratings -- and there's no indication that this will happen, but it's the conclusion that anyone can see when connecting the dots here -- can't you fathom the world's stickiest website being the place to go when a movie you want to see is out or when you're embarking on that coaster-chasing trek that you've been putting off for far too long?

The Internet is already doing a lot of things better than Graph Search can do at the moment, but give it time. This is the beginning of something important, and that's coming from a friend of a friend who told you so.

After the world's most hyped IPO turned out to be a dunce, most investors probably don't even want to think about shares of Facebook. But there are things every investor needs to know about this company. We've outlined them in our newest premium research report. There's a lot more to Facebook than meets the eye, so read up on whether there is anything to "like" about it today, and we'll tell you whether we think Facebook deserves a place in your portfolio. Access your report by clicking here.

The article Facebook's New Toy Is Bigger Than You Think originally appeared on Fool.com.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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