Facebook has now opened their infamous Graph Search up for beta-testing for anyone who wants to try it. And try it they are – parodies aside, Graph Search is shaping up to be an exciting new tool, especially for businesses. It’s obvious that Facebook intends this new search to rival Google – everything from their partnership with Bing and Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that Graph Search will “return to you the answer, not links to other places where you might get the answer” show it. But they don’t just want to create a powerful alternative to Google – Facebook wants to be the internet.
The idea might seem laughable at first. As internet marketers, we make a living on helping unique websites rise in popularity, rise in the rankings on Google and other platforms. Sure, we do some work on social platforms – social media marketing is a viable part of internet marketing – but our focus is on domains less ubiquitous than facebook.com.
But it’s not a new idea, and Facebook has quietly been growing, in more ways than one. In October they passed the monumental 1 billion active users milestone, after the number of users skyrocketed through 2011 and early 2012. For several years now, “facebook”, and variations of the term (“facebook login,” “facebook.com,” and “www.facebook.com”), has been the most-searched query on Google, and Facebook is the most-visited website in the United States as well as several other countries. In addition, just last month Facebook’s mobile population surpassed desktop users.
But there’s another kind of growth going on behind the scenes, in developing countries. In May 2010, Facebook launched a simplified interface called Facebook Zero. This version was created for the Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, an extremely simplified version of the internet, and is accessible on certain feature phones in certain developing countries at 0.facebook.com. Interestingly, Facebook Zero does not require a data plan, and is free unless a user opts to view photos or follow a link to a website off of Facebook.
This text-only Facebook exploded in Africa, where many people’s only internet access is via mobile device. And for many of those mobile users in developing countries, Facebook is their first taste of the internet – Facebook is the internet. These users become hooked on Facebook the same way many of us did back when it was just a website in our browser, and when they trade up for a smartphone they see the same mobile version of the site that we do – with the same applicable data fees.
Facebook doesn’t want the future of the internet to be separate little properties each parked on individual domains – it wants the internet to be composed of enormous, homogenous glaciers of data, chugging along picking up more and more as they go. They want to make it easy to create content on their platform, make it easy to disperse that content to friends. Why bother making your own web property when Facebook is so easy, so convenient? And your friends are there – why would you go anywhere else?
Facebook the Retailer
Facebook is setting itself up for a future in e-commerce as well – already companies can buy advertising and Sponsored Stories, the promotions that appear on your newsfeed when your friends like something. The logical next step is to sell things to consumers directly on Facebook. Facebook has expanded into the retail space in other ways, by rolling out a gift service (you may have noticed it in action when wishing a friend a happy birthday) and Facebook gift cards that carry a balance for multiple stores on the same card.
Other than these select partnerships, Facebook hasn’t – as of yet – created a way for merchants to sell goods directly through their pages. However, several startups already make this possible – 8thBridge, for example, is helping brands like Toys”R”Us, Delta Air Lines, and EA Games sell products and services directly through the social platform. Other services allow retailers to offer discounts on products after a user has liked their Facebook page.
Graph Search is only the latest in Facebook’s plan to take over the internet. If your business wasn’t on the social platform already, now it’s foolish not to be – your users may not bother going all the way to Google to find you. And Facebook knows it.