Facebook yesterday unveiled it’s somewhat lackluster (for the consumer) new feature to the public called Graph Search, a way of using the data stored in it’s social network to find out more about people using connections, places, photos and interests as search parameters.
While this is a big yawn for most (and perhaps another privacy cat and mouse chase between users and Facebook settings) this presents not only a big opportunity for companies to mine for information on their consumers (Facebook WILL sell your data) but internally within the enterprise social context.
So how does Graph Search actually work ? Reading across the net and various reports there are two parts to this and both built in-house at Facebook. The first part is natural language processing based, basically type the question as you would ask it in English, the second part is the one that brings back the answers (note the distinction between Graph Search and Google here is not to rank answers but to return specifics). Facebook has created an index of all objects on the social platform, Lars Rasmussen in Facebook explains
Using traditional information-retrieval systems to mix keyword and structured queries is fairly well understood. But we needed the system also to find answers more than a single connection away, such as “restaurants liked by my friends from India.” Here we were in luck: one of our three existing systems, Unicorn, was designed exactly with this in mind. The search infra team decided on a two-stage approach: first build out Unicorn to manage all the existing search experiences on the site and then, build out Unicorn further to meet all the requirements of Graph Search. Today, we are far enough along now to launch Graph Search as a beta, but we’re still missing is the ability to index all of the posts and comments people have shared on Facebook–they make up by far the biggest dataset we have for Graph Search and Unicorn.
While this is nothing new it’s the size of data being explored which is; 1bn active users a month, 3m photos uploaded every day, 1tn connections…that’s Big Data.
So what is the business context ?
For starters it’s a goldmine for Marketing. Facebook will open this up for commercial use, that’s a no-brainer. ‘Like’ something, comment on something, post something, check-in somewhere, it becomes a connection that can be targeted and used by companies for advertising. When this moves into real-time marketing it’s going to be huge. Recruitment companies will use this in conjunction with LinkedIn, and maybe one day replace LinkedIn as a platform for finding suitable candidates or using both networks together. People are already rushing to fill out their professional profiles on Facebook following the announcement but it still presents a privacy problem for most.
Searching the Social Enterprise
But what’s interesting from an internal enterprise perspective is how enterprise social networks will adopt the same techniques to allow users to mine for information in a more natural way; find subject matter experts easily, who is working on major pieces of work and where are they located, locate a training document easily and who contributed to it, influencers, key personnel, who works together regularly but is not on a structure chart, hidden processes…enterprise social networks are as much a goldmine of information and rich with data beyond what is there on the surface.
For example, understanding a person’s span of control, true expertise and influence from information within an enterprise social network using something akin to Graph Search is key to retention strategies that would otherwise be restricted to personnel records and appraisals. Or mining for a process hidden in manual tasks and activities spread across the network that traditional methods or automated process mining tools monitoring IT systems may not be able to expose.
(see also my previous post on Can social networks defeat hierarchy)
What needs to happen now is for vendors of enterprise social networks to step up their game and help organisations who have invested in their tools get the best of the data and content being generated on a daily basis and go beyond simple Google-style rank searches but make the data more intelligent and relevant.
Facebook is more a Data Broker than social network now, and as a strategy in the long term your enterprise social network should be looked on as the same.