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What is Facebook upto?

Sandeep Amar, Head (Marketing, Audience and Pre-Sales) at Indiatimes writes about Facebook’s open graph, meta tags and the potential for search. He blogs at sandeepamar.blogspot.com. The views expressed below are his personal views.

“I would rather be hated for who I am, than to be loved for who I am not” is a famous quote of Kurt Cobain, one of my favorite rock musicians. We all know what Facebook is loved for, and now they want to be loved for something else: web search. I am not the first one writing on it. Since the start of open graph and introduction of the “like” button, plenty of reports and blogs have hinted at this move.

Today, Google is the undisputed king of search, and Facebook leads the pack for social networking, with access to over 500 million unique visitors a month. Now with open graph, search functionality in the Facebook interface, and metadata additions in web pages, it looks like Facebook is seriously looking at search. Although the current web results on Facebook are powered by Microsoft’s bing, the interest of Facebook in search cannot be taken lightly.

Today Google runs on the Page Rank algorithm, with bots picking up data, and results driven by the complex ever changing algorithms, I had recently written a piece on the same, how it is getting affected by SEO, the increase of data, and local algorithm integration.

Facebook’s plan appears to be to introduce the open graph, push it to portals under the name of social on site search, and with metadata, and offer the ability to show a part of page as rich information which can be picked and showcased on Facebook. Now generally metadata is put up for search engines like Google, to be placed well in search engine results, and this new metadata makes way for the sementic web, as an additional information. The qualitative part is also picked up from the website in form of “like-ability” of the object, from the “like” button.

If you see any movie listing page(e.g. Inception) on IMDB, you will see the following meta data for open graph in html source:

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The age old meta data for Google and other search engines is as follows:


Now as explained earlier, normal meta data would work with bots indexing the data and algorithm pulling it up for search results. In case of Facebook, the “Inception” page has 85K “likes”, and Facebook has the frequency data for that. Therefore for this object, Facebook search results will have both the object and these pages as the front runners, when a search for inception is made.

The interesting point to understand is that Google first puts the pages in search results, and assigns the future importance to a web page on the clicks on the search result link and other performance factors (such as landing page relevance). Therefore, the search result delivery has no contribution from the users who have seen the page: it initially comes from the metadata and SEO which site owner has done, and user contribution is attributed only once users start clicking data on the link in the search results. In comparison, Facebook could use the algorithm based on popularity of the page using the “Like” button, on the basis of what is liked by more number of users.

Although not hinting anything on search, Mark Zukerberg has indicated, that this data will be picked from portals like Yelp(for local listings), IMDB(for movies), Pandora(for music) and Tripadvisor(for travel destinations). Now all the web pages on these sites have “like” button, and sites like IMDB, Tripadvisor and Yelp have open graph metadata.

This will only allow Facebook to have strength in limited fields, and there is no talk of web search as of now, just the talk of social search on Facebook. One does not really know how Facebook is crunching all this information in the back end, but with such high percolation in the Internet universe, and growing addition of open graph metadata, this information is good enough to have decent search results for many important searches, like on movies, places to visit, news items and so on.

We will wait and see if it is just speculation. Interesting times, none the less.

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