There is a timely AdAge article today entitled What Happens When Facebook Trumps Your Brand Site? I say timely because we released a whitepaper today on the intersection of social and search – and in particular Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol – and how it shifts the center of gravity and central presence for any brand or online business back to their own website. This shouldn’t be controversial – it’s what Facebook had in mind when they converted the “Fan” page concept to like. A site that adds Open Graph tags and the Facebook Like button to their corporate site has the same ability to communicate with people who click “Like” from their web page as they do if that “Like” happens on Facebook itself. They can still post to the newsfeed of those who liked them. They can still get insights. Dare Obasanjo, one of Microsoft’s most influential tech thinkers wrote an excellent blog post on the Open Graph and its implications, noting “with the Open Graph Protocol any site can become part of the Facebook social graph. This is a very powerful and liberating concept both from the perspective of what it enables Facebook’s platform to do, but also because it gets rid of some ugly forms of lock-in. For example, Robert Scoble would no longer need to maintain a brand presence on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/scobleizer that is different from his website at http://www.scobleizer.com to stay connected with fans of his blog who are Facebook users.” Brands and businesses now have the ability to manage their Facebook presence from within their own website – a major breakthrough.
The idea of a semantic web is something we’ve always been excited about. When technology enables improved discovery tools for both websites and people, it’s a win-win. While social network search (today’s option for semantic search) is still quite small, it is potentially very powerful in that it is characterized by both a high degree of user intent (a search for something specific) and a high degree of social influence (user considers result to be personalized to his/her preferences and those of his/her social network). These characteristics are plotted here:
How is semantic data (Likes) affecting search results on Facebook? In this example, a search on “Inception” pulls up search suggestions as the user types as shown in the graphic below:
The first result displayed is the Inception page on imdb.com. As it happens, the searcher in this case has already clicked the “like” button on the Inception page on imdb.com, and so this user and the social object “inception movie on imdb” are connected and Facebook is aware of that connection. Note the search results displayed in positions #2 and #3 – one web, one a Facebook page. As it happens, one of the searcher’s Facebook friends has also clicked the “like” button on the Inception page on imdb.com, and the search results list both his name as well as the number of other people, not the user’s friends, who have liked it. The hierarchy of results displayed appears to be a) display items I have liked b) display items my friends have liked c) display items other human beings (Facebook users) have liked.
The size of the Facebook user base and the high activity level of the Twitter user base suggest that once Social Network Search as a product is ready for prime time, Facebook and Twitter can place it front and center in the user experience and quickly gain share. Doubters should examine how quickly Facebook’s Places has gained on Foursquare to see the power of an installed base. Of course there are limitations, at least for the near future. Whereas Google indexes every page on the web with or without site owner or visitor effort, the site owner must tag social objects, and users must push the metadata to Facebook and Twitter (via Tweets and Likes). This means that not every page will become part of the semantic web quickly, if at all. As many have questioned – is every social object something that can be “liked”? Perhaps this is an area where Google, or Facebook together with Bing, will deliver a breakthrough innovation.