Facebook's search launch raises bar for competitors

San Jose Mercury NewsJanuary 17, 2013 

Facebook's launch of a new way to search for photos and information might set off a mad scramble inside the headquarters of its competitors and could spur rivals to quickly roll out their own improved search functions.

"If you're a Facebook competitor, you have to seriously consider how to respond to this by improving your own search paradigms," said Brian Blau, research director in consumer technologies for Gartner. "There's no immediate threat today, but it's definitely going to have an effect."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clearly challenged Internet giant Google on Tuesday with his announcement of the beta rollout of Facebook's new Graph Search function, which will allow users to quickly and more easily find photos, restaurant reviews and other information from among their Facebook friends and other users.

But other competitors, such as Yelp and Foursquare, that rely on user reviews to find local products, services and entertainment also "could be threatened," said Rebecca Lieb, an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group.

"They're looking at this with some interest and trepidation because Facebook really is the 900-pound gorilla in the social networking space," she said.

Andreas Pouros, chief operating officer at the Greenlight digital marketing agency, said the introduction of Graph Search would lead more businesses to flock to Facebook in order to be found and reviewed, and hopefully "liked" by Facebook users.

But it's "unclear at this stage if or how Facebook will monetize Graph Search," Pouros said in a statement.

Zuckerberg told reporters Tuesday that Facebook would spend at least the next year fine-tuning Graph Search. The effect on Facebook's competitors would not be immediate, Blau said.

"I don't think any one search term will take out any one business," he said. "But companies like Yelp and companies like Google are going to have to work harder to keep people on their sites."

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