Is Facebook’s Graph Search A Foursquare-Killer?

January 27, 2013

Facebook Graph Search Header LogoOkay, so unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you have probably heard of Facebook’s big announcement last January 15th: Graph Search. More than a new “search tool”, Facebook will now tap into its huge database of users interactions to power a search tool that will not simply provide you with a bunch of links, like in a classic search with Google, Yahoo or Bing, but rather add a whole social layer upon it. Consider these Facebook statistics:

  • There are now more than 1 billion users on Facebook, with an estimated 743 million active users (active at least once in the past month)
  • 58% of its user base access Facebook daily, while 23% access it 5+ times per day!
  • More than 60% of users access their Facebook account via a mobile device
  • More than 1 million websites have integrated with Facebook
  • There are over 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook every single day
  • There are over 500+ million “likes” per day
  • 1 out of every 7 minutes online is spent on Facebook. The average session per visit is 20 minutes…

These are all mind-boggling statistics that can now be put into motion to power the Graph Search engine. Well, lo and behold, I was granted access a few days ago and so here are my first thoughts on the new shiny tool.


My very first impression when I made the switch to Graph Search was: great, let’s start using this beast! Until I realized they had changed the look & feel on my Timeline…

Graph Search Frederic Gonzalo on Facebook

As you can see, the biggest change is in the top navigation bar. Friend requests, messages and notifications that used to be on the left-hand side are now on the right. The left-hand side is now left alone and in priority for Graph Search. Once you get used to this fact, everything else is pretty much the same as it was.

Facebook Graph Search optionsOnce you hover your mouse over the Graph Search area, in the top-left corner of your Facebook page, you are then given the following options to search within Facebook:

  • My friends
  • Photos of my friends
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Games my friends play
  • Music my friends like
  • Photos I have liked

Of course, these are just the suggested most popular types of searches Facebook assumes we will want to make, but you can type in pretty much anything you want and see what results Graph Search will yield.


When a friend of mine asked about recommendations for a good restaurant in Quebec City, where I live, I thought to myself: perfect, let’s try the new Graph Search! Here is the screen shot of the results:

Facebook Graph Search screen shot

Very disappointing results, since all these restaurants are actually in Montreal, not Quebec City! In case you wonder, the two cities are about 280 km away, or a 3-hours drive…

Being an active Foursquare user, I decided to search with the same criteria, that is: “restaurants”, in “Quebec City”. The results were impressive: numerous recommendations, many tips left by friends, colleagues or acquaintances, in varied types of restaurants in Old-Quebec, Downtown, South Shore, etc. No doubt, Foursquare was a much better tool in this specific example.

Things to do in Montreal Facebook Graph Search with Bing search

In this example, with the query “Things to do in Montreal”, the last two categories of results are web searches within Bing.

Now, it must be said that when using Graph Search, if Facebook cannot yield results within its database, it defaults to classic search results, using Bing. While Microsoft’s search engine certainly doesn’t have the market share of Google (66.9%), it still holds the number two position at 16% and it’s safe to assume this new feature within Facebook will likely benefit the search engine in the long term.

In that sense, Facebook’s Graph Search holds a much bigger, more complete set of tools to answer queries that go beyond the simple example I used above. If you consider simply one suggested category, such as “Photos I liked”, it can potentially become a great way to search through all the photos liked throughout the years. I apparently “liked” more than 100 photos so far, which is easy to believe since I’ve been active on the network since 2007. Thus, it can become a reference tool to dig into personal Facebook archives.


The biggest question, however, remains if this new feature will “stick” with Facebook users. That is, will it become a part of our everyday life and can it become a reflex in our Facebook routine. Many people claim this new search functionality means the end of Foursquare and other location-based applications, and even perhaps user-generated content platforms such as Yelp or Tripadvisor. I don’t think so.

The reason is quite simple: we are creatures of habit. You don’t search for things on internet, you “Google” them. And when you want to know about a hotel or attractions for an upcoming trip, you check out other travelers’ opinions on Tripadvisor. Just because some of my friends may have “liked” a hotel page, or even perhaps made a comment on one of them because they stayed there 4 years ago, doesn’t make that review more pertinent to me. I still prefer to sift through the 29 comments made by travelers who were there in the past month.

Going back to Graph Search, I am not convinced we will suddenly develop the reflex to “Facebook” our next search, specially if results are sub-par during the first few queries. Sure, I realize the functionality was just launched, in English only. One can only assume results will get better as user comments are taken into consideration, more languages are added and the search algorithm is tweaked accordingly. But will it be enough?

Lastly, how will brands and advertising stake a claim into this new search entity? Facebook has not gone forward on the matter yet, but we can only assume there are plans to monetize this promising new feature. Would it actually enhance the experience or muddy the waters even more?

Have you tried the new Graph Search? I would love to have your opinion on this in the comment section below.

Frederic Gonzalo
Frederic Gonzalo

Senior marketing and communications expert & speaker with more than 20 years of expertise in the travel and hospitality industry. Consulting since early 2012, I provide strategic planning, social media & mobile development counseling to small and medium businesses alike. Reach me at

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Adi Gaskell
Adi Gaskell 5pts

Does Bing have a reviews service though?  I mean you can see this being a big thing for Google because they have Google Local to go along with G+, so lots of data they can give the user.


I'm not sure Facebook really has that.  Despite being around a long time it doesn't have a strong culture of people reviewing things, even if only superficially via a like.  Big brand stuff or popular culture perhaps, but not so much particular restaurants or hotels.


Suppose it's a watch this space thing, but I find myself spending less and less time on Facebook these days.

CarolLynnRivera 5pts

You asked "the big question" for sure. The thing about all these new Facebook features is that for many people, Facebook is what it is, and that's a place to share pictures and daily news and see what people ate for dinner. I can't think of a single scenario in which I would use Facebook search. I'd go to Google or if I really wanted to know my friend's opinion, I'd Skype or text or something. I don't need Facebook for that. 


The other weird thing about Facebook is that it's a mixture of actual friends, acquaintances, business associates and complete strangers. We use the term "friend" loosely but I can't think of more than half a dozen people who I'm connected with on Facebook whose opinion on restaurants or anything else would matter to me. I'd get the same effect walking two doors down and asking my neighbor. It's about the same relationship! 


Foursquare has tips and reviews and things that can give you an aggregated and **somewhat objective view. But simply knowing "where my 'friend' likes to eat dinner" is not so helpful.


And to your point, we're also creatures of habit. We're already getting that type of search value elsewhere. We'd need a pretty compelling reason to change our behavior. Facebook needs to give us a pretty strong "why".


Ok, done on the soapbox :)

leaderswest 5pts

Great post, Frederic.  My experience with Graph Search was very similar to yours - robust results for broad subjects but very disappointing results for anything so specific as a restaurant recommendation.  It shows a huge gap between Facebook users and social signals.  I'm glad you brought up Foursquare, because I think they are the huge winners in Graph Search.  They are probably going to sell this year because they can't raise any more money, but they do have a much more robust set of social signals than Facebook does.  So would Facebook buy these to amp up Graph Search and would Google try to prevent Facebook from that data?  I like that we are able to talk about these possibilities, despite the fact that Graph Search is unrealized a this point.  Cheers!