New York (January 17th, 2013) - On Tuesday, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) hosted its much-awaited press event at its Menlo Park Campus. Ever since Facebook announced that it will be holding a press event, there was speculation among investors and analysts over what the company was planning to introduce.
While some analysts said that Facebook may introduce its own smartphones, others said that the social networking giant will launch its own search engine. The speculation ended on Tuesday after Facebook introduced a new “Graph Search” feature at the press event.
With the Graph Search feature, Facebook users can now search for people, places and businesses from their social graph. The company noted that its Graph Search is different from web search. The social network said that while the web search is designed to take a set of keywords and provide best possible results that match those keywords, Graph Search combines phrases to get set of people, places, photos, or other content that has been shared on Facebook. The company believes that Graph Search and web search have different uses.
Facebook also said that the search engine has number of uses, ranging from recruiting to looking for restaurant recommendation. The feature also has huge potential as an online matchmaker, according to the company.
At the press event, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed how the Graph Search feature could help users find people based on their interests, photos and places they have been. Tom Stocky, Director of Product at Facebook, also showed how singles could search through data on their friends of friends who are single. The company said that the feature enables people to use the graph to make new connections.
The Graph Search also allows users to make photo searches. John Bonini, Content Marketing Manager of Impact Branding & Design, told MarketWatch that this feature too allows Facebook users to play the dating game.
So is Facebook entering the world of online dating? The Graph Search includes features that have been successful on dating sites, according to experts. However, unlike users on dating sites, Facebook users don’t have to pay membership fees or fill out questionnaires. Speaking to MarketWatch, Nick Gilham, a personal-branding consultant, said, “You can now find friends that like the same band as you do, or search for someone to share your life with the same interests.”
Other companies had already been using the Facebook platform for dating. Some of the dating apps launched on Facebook include “Are You Interested”, “Zoosk” and “Yoke”. However, the response to these apps has been mixed. One of the problems dating apps on Facebook face is providing a way for users to contact people who share connections or have similar interests. Speaking to Mashable, Rob Fisherman, co-founder of Kingfish Labs, which launched the Yoke application on Facebook, said that cold friending or cold messaging someone on Facebook is uncomfortable because you don’t know if the other person wants to be approached; however, on a dating site like OkCupid, it is not uncomfortable. Fisherman also said that Facebook’s Like data was very often not fresh or comprehensive enough to serve as a dating tool.
The problems highlighted by Fisherman could limit Graph Search’s potential as a matchmaking tool. Another problem could be that users don’t see Facebook as a dating site.
The online dating business is huge though and Facebook, with the new Graph Search, has the potential to establish itself in the market. If market reaction is anything to go by, then Facebook could become a serious player in the online dating space. On Tuesday, shares of IAC/InterActiveCorp (NASDAQ: IACI), which is the parent company of Match and OkCupid, fell sharply after Facebook introduced its new search engine.
The new feature could open a new revenue source for Facebook. Since Facebook’s IPO in May last year, there has been growing concern over the company’s revenue growth. While the company has taken steps to boost mobile ad revenues, the new search engine could further help the company in its efforts to boost top-line growth. Facebook has already introduced a test feature on the lines of premium services used by dating sites. Under the test feature, users can send a message to a non-friend by paying $1.
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