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Is Facebook’s Graph Search A LinkedIn Killer?

Facebook Graph Search

By far, the big tech news yesterday was Facebook’s announcement of it’s Graph Search product. A lot of the analysis was about how Graph Search would be a competitor to Google in the search engine space. But as John Battelle and others have pointed out, thinking about Graph Search as a traditional search engine gets it quite wrong:

Graph Search subsumes Facebook’s previous search offering, which was extremely weak and focused mainly on the use case of navigation (finding people and pages).  The new service takes full advantage of the face that Facebook is, at its core, a massive structured database of tagged entities.

To me, the most interesting use case for Graph Search is the example that was used onstage during the announcement, an example that has been brought up by many people since: job search networking. From Mark Zuckerberg himself:

One of my favorite queries is recruiting,” Zuckerberg said. “Let’s say we’re trying to find engineers at Google who are friends of engineers at Facebook.” He typed in the query and found, not surprisingly, that there were lots of people who met those criteria. Each one was represented by a little rectangle of information — their profile photo, along with snippets of key information like where they went to school, where they live, and the names of the mutual friends.

So the news here for job seekers is this: Is Graph Search the job networking holy grail? Or at the very least, is this a LinkedIn killer?

The way I see it, is that the holy grail of social networking job search is to find friends of friends that work at a company you want to work for. LinkedIn, obviously, has been trying to build out this functionality for years. But we all assume our Facebook networks are deeper and more meaningful (personal, closer connections as opposed to professional connections).

If you could do a search for “people who work at Etsy” and could find someone’s roommates, brother’s friend, then you could hopefully ride that connection to a job interview. Conversely, based on what I’ve read, you could, say, do a search in Graph Search for “architects in New York” and begin networking with new people that way.

Better yet, you could search for “Pages liked by people who work at Goldman Sachs.” Then you could go participate and join the discussion on those pages, hoping to be seen by Goldman Sachs folk, and maybe even reach out to people active on those pages.

I haven’t been able to use the product yet, so I can’t give any real world impressions.

But I see two issues:

Number one, the latest trend in social networking seems to be people organizing their social networks into specific use cases. The people in my Facebook network are not necessarily the people in my Twitter network. I am only followed by (and I only follow) specific people on Instagram. The ven diagrams might not intersect at all. And then in the case of Snap Chat, people seem to be actively looking to segregate their social networking in order to maintain a certain modicum of control and privacy.

All of that is to say, there’s already a great social graph for job search networking and LinkedIn owns it.

Just because Facebook builds it, doesn’t mean everyone has to come.

I can foresee a lot of resistance to this product from the usual people who complain about ANOTHER Facebook privacy intrusion. A lot of us have grown used to keeping our worlds separate: Facebook is for personal, LinkedIn is for work.

As master recruiter Jim Stroud says:

If you know how to manage Facebook privacy settings, there is nothing to worry about. Be that as it may, there will be a section of users who will balk and complain that Graph Search encroaches on their privacy and double down on their efforts to hide their information.

That sort of a backlash could kill the product before it can gain traction.

The key will be how frictionless the product is. Remember the first time you used Google (I know, this dates me by suggesting there was a time before Google)? Remember how it just worked? You put in a query and 9 times out of 10 you immediately got what you were looking for? Remember how freeing and liberating that was?

If Graph Search works like that, then I can see people beginning to use it regularly.

If the first time I search it, I can find out how many friends of friends work at Google, then we do have a game changer on our hands.

But that will all depend on my second point, which stems from my first point: people are not currently trained to use Facebook in the way that Facebook will need them to in order for this to work.

Let me ask you… how many of you have actually filled out your “About” Facebook page with as much detail as your LinkedIn profile? At best you have your current employer listed, correct? But have you meticulously filled out your previous jobs with starting and ending dates?

In other words, do you have your resume on Facebook?

Also, how many of your co-workers are actually your Facebook friends as well? I’d be willing to bet not many. Again, this is because we don’t want to see those people show up in our “personal” newsfeeds or our personal lives. We put up with them at work because we have to, but we’ve made a conscious decision to filter our personal and professional worlds.

This is the sort of learned behavior that Facebook needs to change if Graph Search is going to really supplant LinkedIn.

Again, Stroud, speaking from the Recruiter’s perspective:

All the demos done (that I have seen) have been done by Facebook employees and power users who hang out with other Facebook employees and power users. In other words people who live and breathe social and tech, not the average joe. The average joe does not like and comment on everything as say, I would. The average joe has yet to completely fill out their “About” page, so I cannot find them on a graph search if there is no data to find. Make sense?

And this is NOT to say that there is insufficient data on Facebook About pages to search on with a variety of tools, I’m just saying that there could be a whole lot more data. If Facebook were to gently suggest to its users to fill that page out, I would do cartwheels (or, something similar, as I do terrible cartwheels).

Battelle actually thinks that this sort of change in behavior will be self evident to users:

Recall that when Google burst onto the scene, it prompted a dramatic response from owners of web pages, who immediately began rewiring their sites to be optimized for search. Similarly, Facebook’s Graph Search will incent Facebook users to “dress” themselves in better meta-data, so as to be properly represented in all those new structured results. People will start to update their profiles with more dates, photo tags, relationship statuses, and, and, and…you get the picture. No one wants to be left out of a consideration set, after all.

Color me skeptical on that last point.

For Graph Search to be the holy grail of job search networking, Facebook will need to 1) convince people that the use case is better than LinkedIn while simultaneously 2) convincing people to change their Facebook behavior.

That will present a chicken/egg problem than I’m not sure is solvable.

So, to answer the question posed by the title of this post, I would say (frustratingly) WE WILL SEE…


This article was written by: Brian McCullough

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