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Facebook "Open Graph" - The Rise of Socially Driven Search Engine

by Willy Lim
(Co-Founder, NetProfitQuest)

August 2010 Issue of SME Magazine

August 2010 Issue of SME Magazine

Original article appears in August 2010 issue of SME & Entrepreneurship Magazine

Something BIG happened on Facebook recently. On Apr 21st 2010, Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announces the "Open Graph". Behind this geekish sounding term, is a revolutionary technology that will change the way we search for information online.

What this "Open Graph" technology does is that, it allows Facebook to extend its reach to any websites in the world, through a set of "social plugins" such as the "Like" button, which can transform any ordinary webpage into an integral part of Facebook.

For example, if you click the facebook "Like" button on a webpage, this action will actually show up on your facebook's profile wall, allowing all your friends to see that you have liked an external webpage. This simple "Like" button essentially transforms the ordinary webpage into some sort of external Facebook Fan Page that behaves like viral marketing tool whenever a visitor clicks on it.

So every single webpage out there that implements these Facebook social plugins, will effectively becomes an outpost of Facebook: it becomes part of Facebook , but yet not hosted on Facebook.com.

More than this, this webpage that you have just "liked", will now be stored inside Facebook's database and become SEARCHABLE within facebook's website. Yes...the webpage becomes SEARCHABLE within Facebook. And this is where it gets REALLY interesting...

What Facebook Open Graph means to Google

Online visibility is extremely important for getting business from the internet. If you are not found for your products and services in your location when people search online, you will not get visitors to your website. No visitors means no enquiries, no enquiries means no sales. Period.

Try searching for "cafe petaling jaya" on Google.

Ever since we helped our client, Mastermind Café, to reach the number one spot in Google for the above search term, this small café in the middle of nowhere is packed with customers. You are not guaranteed a table, even if you call in for reservations! Let's just say that things were a tad quieter at MasterMind Café before NetProfitQuest went in to help :)

So the point is, Google is the most used search engine in the world right now and it is important to have good visibility in Google. But with the Open Graph technology, Facebook has transformed itself into a gigantic "Socially Driven Search Engine" with more than 500 million users, overnight. And Google is wetting itself in its pants as I write.

The implications of Facebook's Open Graph search engine are huge. Basically, Facebook is now a search engine based on a social graph (a map of all the social connections online). This is very different from Google which is based on a link graph (a map of all the website connections).

Let me try to explain in plain English what the above means.

Google's algorithm is heavily based on determining the authority of web pages by treating links from one page to another (part of the link graph) as some kind of a vote of approval. Websites that get more links from other authoritative websites will appear higher in Google search results than those with less links. This makes sense because other webmasters will only link to your website if your website provides relevant and quality information that they want to reference and hence link to.

There is however a huge theoretical flaw in Google's model: Only website owners can "vote" by linking to other websites. The problem with this is that, the number of website owners with the power to cast a "vote" is a lot less than the number of website visitors who are unable to vote whether the website is good or bad. But Facebook's Open Graph search engine will change all this.

What Facebook Open Graph means to Website Vistors (and Consumers)

Facebook realized that they can hand over the vote to the average website visitors who not only make up a much larger group but are also the target audience. By putting out the Facebook "Like" button for use on any webpage rather than just on Facebook's fan pages , Facebook allows website visitors to "like" (and hence "vote")for a website. Facebook then looks at the social graph of the web instead of the link graph, and ranks the website with more "likes" higher than one that has less "likes".

And hence with Open Graph technology, Facebook created the world's first "Socially Driven Search Engine", a search engine that is powered by what the community "likes".

What Facebook Open Graph means to SMEs

Try searching for "cafe petaling jaya", this time round using the white search bar in Facebook. You will find our client Mastermind Café appearing in the Facebook search results. Clicking on the link will direct you to an external website (not on Facebook) about Mastermind Café. You will also see the number of facebook users who like this café in petaling jaya.

With Facebook Open Graph technology, consumers can now search for information about your products and services not just via search engines like Google but also via Facebook search bar. Your target audience gets a more balanced view of search results: An analytical search result from Google VS a relationship-based community-driven recommendation from Facebook.

Bottom line is, it is more important than ever before, for your products and services to be searchable on Google and Facebook , because your target market is searching on these platforms. If they can't find you when they search for your type of products and services, not only do you lose potential customers, worse still, you may lose them to your competitors whom they found online via Google and Facebook!

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