Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

Is Facebook’s Graph Search a Giant Killer?

Will Facebook’s “Graph Search” be a threat to Google, LinkedIn, Yelp, or Foursquare asks a question on Quora?

jack_the_giant_killer_version9-movie-poster

No, No, No and Definitely Not. Yet.

The key is expertise.

Beneath the obvious user delight, Facebook is betting a lot on Graph Search’s core ability to connect people with what they’re looking for accurately and immediately. And obviously as the middle man, they stand to gain. Fair enough.

But will Facebook’s imminent functionality be a threat to well established vertical searches like Google, Yelp, LinkedIn and Foursquare?

All of the four kinds of search you can do today: Photos, People, Places and Interests, bear commercial implication. But the most immediate remain People and Places, which as bloggers speculate may pose a threat to Yelp, Foursquare, Google (Places) and LinkedIn (People). So, let’s take simple examples and compare Facebook Search with the other four searches.

Facebook vs. Yelp

I started with a simple search for “bars,” something I presume will be a common search on any local product. Here’s what I got with Facebook. For starters, along with actual bars it also pulled up law and bar associations or offices which was a bit odd.

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Now try the same with Yelp and you see how right away, they try to segment that query into the different types of bars you’re potentially searching for.

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Once you get a set of results, Yelp then allows you (and this is the most useful feature on yelp currently) to convenience sort by “rating,” “proximity,” “price,” “open now,” or even better by neighborhoods.

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I’ve gotta tell you; if you go out often, this filter is magical. But again, the filter is by utilitarian ratings by foodies and not by friends around you. More on that in just a second.

But before we leave Yelp, the third most useful feature on Yelp is their surfacing key elements of the review. So you’re at a restaurant and you’re wondering what’s the best thing on the menu. In days past, you’d have had to ask the person serving you but now you can rely on “the wisdom of an expert crowd” what’s the best food here and it works. Like magic.

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Facebook vs. Foursquare

Back to the topic of friends which is Facebook’s biggest competitive advantage. If you do wanna take into account which restaurants your friends are frequenting (ignoring the fact that expertise is the key), then try Foursquare.

The first thing you’ll notice yet again is the structured data (categories like Bar, Sports Bar, Salon) right up front (similar to Yelp) that Foursquare now provides you; though not as in depth as Yelp, can still be a tad useful.

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Digging deeper through the results, you’re gonna find them sorted by Foursquare’s own proprietary “Zagat number” that they conjure based on multiple data points.

Foursquare comes up with its score by looking at tips left by users, likes, dislikes, popularity, check-ins and it also weights signals more heavily for local experts.

They also show you a self-selecting group of folks who you know. Chances are most of these folks are more prone to bar hop than your other friends. But still Yelp really nails it with their community that they have nurtured for many many years who continue to write meaningful reviews that makes a world of difference when it comes to local search.

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Facebook vs. Google Local

While on the topic of a Zagat number, Google recently bought restaurant ratings site Zagat which now powers their Google Local ratings.  Zagat which originally started off compiling restaurant ratings of the Zagat’s friends, does something very similar to Yelp and the model here is yet again – expertise.

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Facebook vs. LinkedIn

Shifting gears to people search, Facebook’s people search is three years after LinkedIn launched its faceted people search. I know because I helped launch it at TechCrunch Disrupt where product manager Esteban Kozak demoed it right before CEO Jeff Weiner went on stage. (Disclosure: I no longer work at LinkedIn and don’t own any stock either) My mind was blown when I first saw what we could do with faceted search on LinkedIn both from a user experience perspective and I’m sure recruiters have found even more value from it.

Take a look at this demo video we shot in 2009 that shows you the plethora of signals a site like LinkedIn uses to hone in on the right professionals in a search. Easier said than done, and much like with Yelp, these signals have been gathered over many many years and such a search isn’t something you can turn on willy-nilly.

In all four instances the quality of Facebook’s search is insipid today compared to the robust community based expertise that the four sites have either built or bought .

The key is expertise. 

Now granted there are many things Facebook could do to build or buy their way into each of these verticals but the key point is that strength in local search across People and Places is not “friend” related, but rather “expertise” dependent and it takes years to build that. And frankly, I’d go with the critical reviews from experts in these fields and that’s an area that Yelp, Foursquare, Google and LinkedIn have Facebook beat.

Filed under: Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, LinkedIn Features, Local Search, Location, Mark Zuckerberg, , , , , ,

Could Color kill Check-ins?

“If I’d asked my customers “friends” what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse check-in.”Henry Ford Color

Check-ins don’t work for the majority of users outside of the tech industry. They’ve been around for a while. They’ve been tried, tested, been crowned breakout technology at geek-fest SXSW Interactive, but to date I’m not sure if any of my friends in the Real World actually CHECK-IN when we meetup.

But, Photos, we all do. All The Time. Family gatherings, events, conferences, concerts – you name it – whenever 2 or more are gathered together, chances are there’s a photo being taken (maybe not at Starbucks, but you get the picture). Especially, in today’s world of the ubiquitous smart phone camera.

Enter Color.

What is Color? A hot new mobile photo app launched yesterday that for lack of a better term reminds me of a bizarro meeting of Facebook Places and Facebook Photos, where they re-create your social graph based on where you and “birds of your feather” gather today in real-time in the real-world.

Yes, it’s difficult to describe and yes, it’s difficult to experience without a friend or two (oh, yae!) around, but the idea is so dang intriguing and potentially disruptive. So bear with me here.

Color vs. Facebook Places / Photos

Interestingly, Color’s vision is kinda like how Facebook describes Facebook places is described in this video (if you can get past the cheesy Apple music and corny spin)

We haven’t really provided a way for you to find out where your friends really hang out, and we think that’s a really important part of who people are“. Color’s basically flipping the check-in model by saying: Your friends are those you hang out with. Just hang out. Do your thing, and we’ll take care of “checking you in” with any photo being taken by you or around you.

Boom!

Bill Nguyen says:

Color offers a way to determine location and proximity in such a non-battery draining, accurate manner that an impromptu and “elastic” social graph can be created from the data, without once ever having to purposefully check in.

“Our data is so accurate that we know where you are,” said Nguyen.

So, if you’d asked techie users what they wanted, they’d have said a faster check-in or a more centralized one (sorry, Gowalla!), but Color could be trying to build a real-world graph based on the people you actually end up hangin out with. And, for those of us living in the real-world and not in a “social graph” this could be very interesting.

The Creepiness and Loneliness Factor/s

Now, this is easier said than done. They are betting on a future with people becoming more photo-savvy, caring less about privacy. And, in that world if you’re around a camera – any camera – they will find you whether or not you “check-in” (again a Facebook trait, who allow your friends to check you in even if you don’t, a lil Minority Report’esque for my taste) but could this be a future we’re all not gonna mind in the future?

Interestingly, Facebook bet its future on people’s eagerness to share more. And, as the voiceover in the Facebook video says: “I expect in the future, people are gonna share a lot more of their lives this way (meaning check-ins)“, but frankly people are sharing a lot more via photos today. And, Facebook, as the world’s largest photo-sharing site should know that.

A more immediate concern for Color may be the “Loneliness” factor. It works effectively only when you find yourself in groups and folks who try it alone in their room (who does that in the real world anyways?) are bound to face disappointment. And much like Twitter who struggled explaining what they were all about (a site about nothing) for a very long period of time, Color too would have to figure out a way to overcome this challenge.

Tipping Point?

I did tell my former colleague and currently product lead at Color, DJ, that Color would have been THE breakout technology at SouthBy two weeks ago, giving bloggers, journalists, movie makers and musicians the Aha moment, they so sorely lack today. Here was his response to that question on Quora.

Related Quora threads I answered:

1. What is the point of Color?

2. What emergent behaviors will Color create?

Filed under: Color, Location, , ,

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