2013: A Tech Odyssey – Part 1

Since we are obviously incapable of seeing the future, it’s in our human nature to conjure up ideas of what we think that future holds.  From analyzing trends, behaviors, and recent developments, I believe the biggest tech news in will be tied to very specific events and achievements yet to occur.  Thus my next three articles will focus on what I believe these technological milestones will be, as part of my 2013: A Tech Odyssey series of posts.

Search: It’s Not Just for Google Anymore

Google has held online Search in an iron grip ever since its IPO in late 2004.  So much so that, somewhere along the way, the word “Google” itself became part of our lexicon, a term that meant “to search for something online.”  Have that annoying friend who asks you when a movie is releasing, or who sings a particular song?  Dude, just Google it.

But Google suffers from one unavoidable flaw:  Searches that aren’t finely-targeted can produce a bevy of irrelevant and/or unhelpful results, even when using Google’s Search Tools to refine them.  In other words, browsing is much more difficult than searching, near impossible.  Couple that with the fact that only Google knows its own search algorithms, and this means companies who want Google to direct users to their own domains in some fashion other than advertisements—i.e. every company that wants Google users to spend money on their products—are left mostly guessing at ways to optimize their website for Google search.

Facebook has known of this defect in Google Search, just as they knew how poorly their own platform has leveraged Search throughout its lifespan; CEO Mark Zuckerberg even dropped hints about Facebook’s interest in Search as early as September of last year.  To their credit, Google, being equally aware of Facebook’s inevitable impending foray into Search, launched the Google+ network to establish the kind of social connections between its users that Facebook already had, in order to solve this problem before Facebook did.  But as most of us know, Google+’s adoption rate and user base pale in comparison to Facebook’s.  But it’s only recently that the Graph Search feature has begun rolling out for Facebook users, and the bruised egos from Facebook’s mid-2012 IPO woes, combined with its prior search deficiencies, indicate that Graph Search is designed to usher in a huge shift in the marketing landscape.

This is mainly because users will inherently trust Graph Search results to be more connectedwith the people or things they already like, as well as the people or things they already Like (see what I did there?).  Want to know how many of your friends enjoy a certain band before you download their music?  With Graph Search, not only will you see which Friends like that band, but you’ll make a judgment call based on those specific results; i.e. “Because Friend X likes Radiohead, I probably will too—because I already know we have very similar tastes in music.”

In this way, Facebook cashes in on our mind’s inherent tendency to gauge the credibility of something based on its connection to our friend.  On the flip side, do we care what music Google listens to?  No, because Google is not a person (Citizens United be damned).  Thus Facebook is now effectively using its most valuable resource—its users—to create game-changing tools that no one else can, and Graph Search may be their biggest achievement yet.  But, as is always the case with predictions, I could be wrong—after all, not everyone is sold on Graph Search.  And many users constantly worry about privacy concerns and consider pulling back their interaction with the network.

But for now the question is: How does mobile factor into this new feature?  After all, Zuckerberg himself has admitted that mobile will drive Facebook’s revenue for years to come—yet Graph Search will not immediately be available as a feature through the Facebook app.  Thoughts differ on whether this is a wise move on Facebook’s part.  So exactly how and when will Graph Search and Facebook’s mobile strategy converge?  What could this mean for location-based social marketing?

Think of standing in a movie theater lobby, opening your Facebook app and instantly viewing every Facebook Friend’s approval ratings of each film playing that night–as well as which Friends are at the theater with you.  Or walking into a car dealership and holding up your phone (or just looking through your Google Glass) at car models in the showroom, with your Friends’ avatars and comments hovering above them.  Of course, the possibilities go on.  Whatever the result, I’ll be fascinated to see how Graph Search’s mobile strategy develops in 2013.

Ankur Gopal is CEO of Interapt, a mobile tech strategy and development firm.  When he’s not spending too much of his own time on Facebook, he is replying to emails at agopal@interapthq.com