Facebook's new search ratchets up pressure on competitors

  • Article by: DAN NAKASO , San Jose Mercury News
  • Updated: January 19, 2013 - 4:10 PM

Graph search is a clear, if not immediate, challenge to other social-networking sites.

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Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, speaks during the unveiling of a new search feature for Facebook at a news conference in Menlo Park, Calif., Jan. 15, 2013. Called "graph search," the new service lets users search their social connections for information about people, interests, photos and places.

Photo: Jim Wilson, Nyt - Nyt

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Facebook's launch of a new way to search for photos and information from among its more than 1 billion users might set off a mad scramble inside the headquarters of its competitors and could spur other Silicon Valley companies to quickly roll out their own improved search functions.

"If you're a Facebook competitor, you have to seriously consider how to respond to this by improving your own search paradigms," Brian Blau, research director in consumer technologies for Gartner, said after Facebook's announcement Tuesday. "There's no immediate threat today, but it's definitely going to have an effect."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clearly challenged Internet giant Google with his announcement last week of the beta rollout of Facebook's new "graph search" function, which will allow users to quickly and more easily find photos, restaurant reviews and other information from among their Facebook friends and other users.

But other competitors, such as Yelp and Foursquare, that rely on user reviews to find local products, services and entertainment also "could be threatened," said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with the Altimeter Group.

"They're looking at this with some interest and trepidation because Facebook really is the 900-pound gorilla in the social-networking space," she said.

Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer at the Greenlight digital marketing agency, said Facebook's graph search is "innovative and powerful. ... Ordinarily the user would ask [a] question by posting it on their wall; now the tools are there to allow the user to just search."

Like other analysts, Pouros suspects that the introduction of graph search will lead more businesses to flock to Facebook in order to be found, reviewed and, they hope, "liked" by Facebook users.

But it's "unclear at this stage if or how Facebook will monetize graph search," Pouros said in a statement.

With more businesses on the social network, Facebook users will have near-instant access to more information, such as restaurant menus, Lieb said.

"This might be a good reason for brands to go onto Facebook," she said. "Right now there's no way for brands to directly promote themselves. But you can almost bet there will be advertising around this."

Zuckerberg told reporters Tuesday that Facebook will spend at least the next year fine-tuning graph search, so the effect on Facebook's competitors will not be immediate, Blau said.

"I don't think any one search term will take out any one business," he said. "But companies like Yelp and companies like Google are going to have to work harder to keep people on their sites."

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