With “Graph Search”, Facebook says: “We will BE the internet the next decade”

Facebook recently announced the launch of its own social search engine. It is breaking news actually and Google is not the only one who should be worried about Graph Search: a new step has been taken towards a Semantic Web locked up by the social giant.

The rise of the Facebook Graph

Google has long been aware that Facebook’s main asset is neither the news feed nor the timeline (the two first pillars of the Facebook ecosystem according to Mark Zuckerberg) but the humongous amount of structured data the firm has been acquiring over people, friendships, interests, activities, locations and so on.

The same data Google has been striving to put into the Knowledge Graph.

The so-called “social graph” has been progressively opened to external contributions since 2010. With Facebook Open Graph, the firm allowed apps and websites to tell stories on users’ timelines, importing their own characters and actions on the social platform.

By broadening Facebook’s ability to track people’s behavior on the Internet, all other web companies, from Spotify to Pinterest, have earned a huge amount of users and activity on their own platforms. But there is no free lunch: these firms have offered Facebook a priceless gift, supplying it with the data that will –obviously- become the heart of the Graph Search feature in the coming years.

The first beta that has been announced is focused on core Facebook data (friends, photos, locations, etc.) but no one doubts that it will soon be opened to other Open Graph data. Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg clearly stated his vision of the Facebook graph in a blog post:

 It lets you shape your experiences online and make them more social. For example, if you like a band on Pandora, that information can become part of the graph so that later if you visit a concert site, the site can tell you when the band you like is coming to your area. The power of the open graph is that it helps to create a smarter, personalized web that gets better with every action taken.

Facebook has unveiled it all: so long links, welcome likes and Semantic Web. Facebook’s bet is that search engines will not be the Internet start page anymore. People will search on Facebook and interact with actions instead of following links.

A real threat to the old-fashioned, decentralized web

The founding father of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, has been expecting the Semantic Web to emerge for a few years:

The Semantic Web will bring structure to the meaningful content of Web pages, creating an environment where software agents roaming from page to page can readily carry out sophisticated tasks for users.

Still, he surely hadn’t expected it to come to life under that form.

One might be worried that Facebook’s Semantic Web is not built upon an infinite number of independent websites, each of them offering a small piece of the global knowledge. Instead of that, we are getting a highly centralized and proprietary graph from a company that is far away from taking privacy concerns seriously.

Some may argue that Google has been in such a dominant position for the past 10 years and they would be quite right. But Facebook’s “Open Graph” is a totally different tool: while Google was browsing the Internet, an open network whose language (the HTML) was regulated by an independent organization (the W3C), Facebook will benefit from a proprietary protocol (the Open Graph Protocol) and API. Even worse? To get traffic, websites will allow Facebook to get data that no one else can get on users’ activity and interests, giving Facebook the power of life and death on their businesses.

Commentators that are reducing the Graph Search to a marketing tool might be missing the main fact: year after year, Facebook is building a complete and coherent ecosystem. Today, the company is sending an even clearer message for those that had not yet understood: “we’ll be the Internet in the coming decade”.

Photo: Robert Scoble, Flickr

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About the author

Jawad Stouli

Web entrepreneur and tech enthusiast, Jawad is the co-founder of two French startups: CitizenPlace and CaptainCar. He wanders the web and tech events to identify new technologies and business opportunities and reports his discoveries on Twitter.

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