Well, the news is well and truly out now, and as many people have been predicting, Facebook has launched their own search engine. The video at the end of my post gives you a quick overview of a few of the things that it's goingo to cover, but I'm obviously interested in looking at it in terms of the information professional.
It's being rolled out slowly, with limited testing in the United States, so the rest of us will have to wait awhile before we can start to play with it, but you can request early access as well. It's still very basic at the moment, but the thrust of where Facebook is taking search is very clear. To start with, it's NOT a web search engine. You can't use it to find all the pages on the web where there are references to a particular football team for example - it's designed to leverage the huge amount of content that's contained within Facebook. That's a really big reason on its own as to why librarians and other information professionals will need to have access to Graph Search (as well as the rest of Facebook of course), because it's a huge information resource. To deny access to Facebook is to deny access to an extremely large portion of the internet experience - I'm not going to replay all the figures associated with Facebook here; you can check out my Pinterest collection of social media statistics or run on over to Visual.ly and do a search for Facebook Statistics and either of these resources should give you the information you need.
Graph search is starting out around the Ps - People, Places, Photographs. The idea is that you'll be able to do a search to find out what your friends like, so you could find out which boardgames your friends like, or which boardgames your married friends with children enjoy playing. You could locate a dentist based on recommendations from friends, or the restaurants in a particular area that you'll probably enjoy eating at based on trusted (ie friends) recommendations. You'll be able to explore particular areas and see the photographs that friends or colleagues have taken, so you might decide to grab photographs of London that friends took on holiday, which the pictures that work colleagues took may be of conferences or convention centres because they were in London working.
Don't worry - privacy will still be a big thing, and the information that you can get will be based on whatever settings people have chosen, but you'll also be able to get data on information that people have shared publically, and that's still a large number of people - about 25% of the Facebook community. However, Facebook does have a very patchy record when it comes to privacy issues, so this is something that you'll need to look at when it comes to using the service yourself - or when your friends do!
So, up until now, Facebook has been about you and your friends. There's certainly an element of leverage here in that the Graph Search will collate a lot of that information together in new and interesting ways. Does this make it a Stalkers toolbox? I think that's going to be down to the settings that you choose for yourself, but it's going to make us think really hard about why we want to use Facebook and importantly how we use it. Is it just for 'friends' or are those friends actually 'colleagues'. In the video, one of the engineers makes a really interesting point that in future we're going to be able to use Facebook - not just to find our friends and colleagues, but to find people that we perhaps should know, or who can help us do something that we currently can't.
This is where the value and importance of Facebook Graph Search starts to come into play, and hopefully you're already seeing how a library could utilise this. I would suggest that every library (public, private, corporate, academic etc) needs to be on Facebook. Your library needs to be found. Now of course, it can be found when people are doing generic searches on Google and the rest of the search engines, but the important point here is that if people are already logged into Facebook, they're more likely to use the search option in the future - particularly if they've found that it works well for them. So if you're not there, you probably won't exist or be thought of by the searcher. In exactly the same way that a few years ago I would argue that a library or business needs to be on the internet, because who uses the printed Yellow Pages any more? If you're not on the net, you don't exist. If you're not on Facebook, pretty soon you won't exist either - it really is that simple.
So - the library needs to have a Facebook presence; it's becoming vital. However, that's only stage number one. Stage two is that library and other professional staff also need to be on Facebook, so that they can be found. For example - I have an interest in American History (the Civil War to be precise) and if I'm going to the States to speak at a conference, I'm going to be keen to see if I can pop in some visits to places that will interest me about the Civil War. Yes, of course I can do a general search and get some stuff, but that's still very clinical. However - if I can see who is going to the conference, and they're friends of mine, I can use Graph Search to find out if any of their friends are into the same interests, or work at a useful library and maybe I can get an introduction to hook up to an expert quickly. Because of the friendship element, I suspect that I'll have a much richer experience than if I just wander into the local museum or library.
However for this to work, that person with the Civil War interest needs to be actively talking about it on Facebook - they have to be engaging, writing about it, mentioning the really great restuarant at the edge of a battlefield that's worth going to, or particular sites, and sharing their photographs. So we're going to have to have an entirely new level of engagement with Facebook for that to work well, and we're also going to have to change - to an extent - our concept of privacy, yet again. If that friend of a friend keeps their interest private, I'm not going to have a chance to make that connection. However, if their information is public, it's a great contact for me. This doesn't mean that everything you do on Facebook all of a sudden has to be public - not at all. However it does mean that we're going to have to think very carefully about what we keep private and what we make available to all and sundry, or indeed if we should have different Facebook accounts for different purposes (which Facebook doesn't like of course, but hey, why should they have all the fun?)
If you - as a professional - have expertise in a particular area, you probably want to share it. You want to help people, or to promote your organisation or your library. You want to be able to reach out into a wider community, and Facebook is offering you a chance to do exactly that. If I'm going to a particular part of the country and I have an interest in local history, wouldn't it be great to be able to see a collection of old photographs or prints of that area which have been shared on Facebook by the librarian in the local public library? If I have a few moments I may then decide to pop into that library to look and see what other stuff is available for me to use. Simply by doing what it is that we do - preserving and presenting information, and working with communities to get more stuff available, we're getting out to that wider audience, and increasing our profile.
This also has an advantage for Facebook as well of course. The one thing that Facebook can't cope with is inertia. This isn't so much a problem for Google, because there are always new things happening that it can index and make available to us, but if we're stuck at 6 Facebook friends that's not really adding that much to the Facebook universe, because you're not sharing content widely or making new connections. However, if you're active on Facebook, and doing more, sharing more and contributing more content Facebook is growing. So, if we move away from the concept of 'friends' and more towards the concept of 'colleagues' there's an entirely different option for Facebook to grow, as we make more friends and share more stuff.
Make no bones about it though, there's a huge impact in other areas as well. If we're moving away from an organisational presence to a personal presence (and I've argued that point well enough in the past, as it's the way that we need to go), how does an organisation respond? Sure, someone can still be responsible for putting up the local history photographs but someone needs to decide to do that, at some level. If we're going to encourage professionals to share their expertise for the benefit of both the organisation and the community, we have to let them do it themselves. This is not going to go down very well with the web development team or the people who produce the Council guidelines on internet use. I would argue that it's our role as information professionals to point out that Facebook is not what it once was, and that it needs to be regarded in a completely new way.
I've already seen people complaining that the new Graph Search isn't going to help brands promote themselves; Larry Kim (CTO of Wordstream) says "It remains unclear on how advertisers will be able to use this Graph Search product to better market and sell their products to Facebook users." I beg to differ. It's perfectly obvious to see how this is going to work, because it's going to be much more down to individual users of products to market and sell products themselves, based on their own recommendations. If I like a product, I'm more likely to recommend it to my friends, and if I dislike it, I'm going to be fairly vocal about that. Companies may well have to spend more time interacting with people than they've done in the past, and use their budgets to keep people interested and onside inside of using it to spend huge amounts on advertising to people who are not interested. So advertising is going to have to continue to become more personalised. Once again there's a role here for the information professional. We are generally very well trusted by people, so we can help by talking about the resources that we use - the software tools that we like, the websites that we go to and so on. That will further help our members as well as the members that we don't have yet.I can also see that companies such as LinkedIn are going to have very considerable concerns about this move, since we'll be able to use Facebook to find out what jobs are available, do we already know anyone who works there, or is a friend of ours, we can see what that company does, the attitudes of people who work there and so on. Graph Search is going to very quickly become a cross between Yelp, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Amazon and so on.
Graph Search is a really big deal, and there is no doubt that it's going to really hit Google. Don't also forget the tie in that Facebook has with both Bing and Blekko, both of which integrate Facebook into their search offerings. This move is going to do them no harm whatever, and in fact will be a really big boost for them, but it will further leave Google out in the cold - because who is going to want some list of websites to look at when they can instead get personalised, tailored content?
Does this require us all to sit glued to Facebook at the expense of other methods of communicating? No, I don't believe that it does. It's perfectly easy to share content across social media with a quick click of a button - you can do it at the bottom of this post if you want to try it out! As we are looking for information, then finding it, we can do the next thing which is to recommend it. However, it does also mean that yes, I believe that we need to spend more time using social media, and that has to move further up the list of priorities. I think we'll be seeing Social media (or Real Time media) roles within information centres, and it should be part of the role that everyone has, not just a few people. We cannot escape it, nor should we - in fact we should be actively embracing it. If we don't, we shall find as Jessops, Comet, BlockBuster and HMV have already found - that we won't be around much longer. For a library and it's staff to flourish we cannot expect people to come to us in the building. We have to go to them, and they are on Facebook, Twitter and the rest.
So, in summary, Graph Search is important for the profession because:
It gives us access to more information to be able to do our jobs better and more effectively.
It will quickly put us in contact with people who we can contact for information, and who we may have a link with.
It's a way that we have of promoting our library to both existing and new members.
We can use it to provide more information than we've been able to do in the past.
It's a very positive way to demonstrate our own skills and abilities.
It gives us more control over the information that we have and how we demonstrate it.
There's another way that's now available to us which means that we can virtually leave the buildings behind us, and connect directly with our members.