Facebook Graph Search is not the formidable competitor to Google or Yelp that some industry watchers have made it out to be in the aftermath of the announcement of the early stage product. At least, not yet.
"In the short term, it should have no impact on Google," said Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research. "But, if Facebook really builds up its local search capabilities, then maybe we could see some impact down the line."
"This is more about Facebook than competing with Google," he said.
Facebook unveiled the new search feature during a much-hyped press conference on January 15. Currently in a limited beta rollout, Graph Search is designed to give users wider flexibility in finding things on the site and to enhance the social network's usability.
With the tool, people can type search phrases in plain English in a new box on any Facebook page, with queries such as, "Chinese restaurants in the East Village my friends like," or, "Friends in California who like skiing."
Following the unveiling, some called Facebook's foray into search too little, too late. Others sounded the Google and Yelp death knell.
But some analysts rejected the gloomiest assessments for Facebook's rivals.
"'Yelp killer' is hyperbolic," Opus' Sterling said.
Facebook is not really a competitor to other search-based sites, such as Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor, because their uses are different, analysts said. While the latter sites scour wide swaths of the web, Facebook's Graph Search is centred on people you know. That can be more meaningful for certain types of queries, some analysts said.
For example, on Yelp, you typically don't really know who the people are who are commenting, said Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with Altimeter Group.
Yelp argues that its broad inclusiveness is precisely its strong suit. "The beauty of user-generated content or crowd-sourcing is that it doesn't limit your search universe to your circle of friends," said Vince Sollitto, Yelp's vice president of corporate communications and government relations.
Google declined to comment directly on Graph Search. A key difference between Google and Graph Search is that Google encompasses the whole web, while Facebook's new feature is focused on a user's own contacts.
While other sites lack the depth of your personal social connections, "Graph Search gives more people insight into their relationships," Etlinger at Altimeter said. "Leveraging those social intersections has not been very easy in the past."
In some cases, Graph Search may be most valuable after you've used other sites, Etlinger said. Research can be done on Amazon or Google for which book to give as a gift, but after that, "I want to know, what do my friends think?" she said.
In instances such as those, Graph Search is complementary, not competitive, to the other search tools, she said.
However, it's too early to judge the new system's usefulness, given that Graph Search is still in its infancy and Facebook has had its false starts in the past, such as with its now-scrapped Questions application, analysts said.
"Facebook is not infallible," Opus' Sterling said. "Graph Search will add value to the search experience, but how far beyond it remains to be seen."
Others see Graph Search, which is designed to index the roughly one trillion connections among Facebook's one billion-plus users, as no game-changer in the end.
"It's still just site search," Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott said. "Will this feature go head-to-head with Google? I seriously doubt it; the two indexes contain entirely different kinds of information."
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