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Why Facebook’s Graph Search needs to be mobile right now

Facebook’s Graph Search announcement met with an outsized response from the tech press this week. Those of us who wanted a Facebook phone – ill-advised as that may have been – came away somewhat disappointed by Mountain View’s foray into search. Others might see this as yet another step into Facebook’s vision of total online hegemony, turning the social network into the de facto Internet.

The fact remains, however, that Graph Search is a confusingly desktop-only affair right now. We’ve been told that Graph Search will hit mobile “tomorrow” (figuratively, not literally), but for a company that Zuckerberg has characterized as “really a mobile company” those innovations need to be happening right now. Right where most of Facebook’s users can see them.

Recommendation Engine par excellence

There’s no question that Facebook is taking on the Web at large with this new effort. LinkedIn, Yelp, Foursquare, and even OkCupid have a few things to worry about since Facebook has now planted itself firmly in all their wheelhouses.

But where Facebook may face obstacles disrupting online recruitment and dating – put simply, it’s a whole lot easier to search for a stranger than to message one – local search is where it can bury the competition.

Presently, Facebook has more than 1 billion users. 600 million of those are mobile users, and roughly 100 million only use the site on their mobile devices. Such users will want to find the best restaurants and best night spots, not from home, but when they’re already out and about. Facebook can accomplish that with ease, having already scaled to meet that potential demand; the platform is already advertising Graph Search as something businesses should be very, very interested in utilizing. The site also already has a check-in function, as well as the newly implemented Nearby feature. With the power of Graph Search, users needn’t reference Foursquare or find places on Yelp. Facebook will have locked them in as soon as they step out the door.

Your new phone book

With yesterday’s rollout of free calling via Messenger for iPhone, Facebook can now officially stand alongside the likes of Skype as a true VoIP solution. The ramifications of this step are huge, as Facebook’s community dwarfs Skype’s, and free calls over Wi-Fi or data gives people the means to save a ton on cell service. The iPhone is now as close to a bonafide Facebook Phone as we’re going to see, and the feature can’t be far behind for other platforms.

Merging search into such a product is a no-brainer. Your contacts and your favorite places are only a few clicks away. All that’s left is video calling. But guess what: Facebook already has a deal with Skype to make that happen on the desktop. Adding mobile to the mix could create a perfect storm that changes mobile telephony in a big way.

Voice search

Mark Zuckerberg made much of the fact that Graph Search understands natural speech when you enter queries. “Costa Rican men living near New York City” could seriously be something you could search for on Facebook, and Graph Search will deliver. I’m not saying you should do a search like that, but you could and that’s a powerful thing.

But what sense is there using natural speech if it can’t be spoken? Facebook would be in a place to compete with the likes of Siri and even Google Now by making search voice-ready. Of course, the engineering to bring such a project to fruition would outstrip what Facebook has already accomplished with Graph Search. Still, it should be on the radar for the next step in their plan for world domination improving the user experience.

Ads ads ads

And isn’t this the entire point? Facebook, like its arch-nemesis Google, is now an ad company, and its greatest strength is in serving ads to its now more than one billion customers. There’s simply no way to pretend that the search queries users will pump into Graph Search won’t be used to better connect people to services, companies, and experiences according to their Likes, wants, and needs.

Facebook, for its part, can’t pretend that computing is stagnant. People have increasingly begun to enjoy everything they have to offer on their smartphones and tablets. The app economy is entrenched, and Zuckerberg and his ilk would be foolish to leave money on the table for very long. So much has already been said about Facebook’s need to innovate. The developers in Mountain View need to understand that their revenue stream aren’t sitting at their desks anymore. They’re out in the world, and Facebook needs to meet them there.

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Kwame Opam
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kwame graduated from Stony Brook University with BA in Anthropology and has a Masters in Media Studies. He's done stints at…
Facebook Home FAQ: Everything You Need to Know
Facebook Home cover flow

We’ve been waiting for some time to find out just what Facebook was going to reveal at today’s press conference. Would it be a new phone? Would it be a new operating system? Speculation was running rampant. Finally, we found out what the Palo Alto company had up its sleeves. In a way, it was a little of both.
At today’s event, Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook crew unveiled the company’s latest innovation: Facebook Home. Essentially, it's the happy medium between having a Facebook phone or operating system. It's an app that you can install from the Google Play Store that will take over your homescreen and replace it. 
The premise behind Home? As Zuckerberg said earlier today, “Our phones today are designed around apps, not people. We want to flip that around.” And flip, it certainly did.
What is the Cover Feed?
Once the program has been installed, when you turn on your phone, you’ll see big images that take over the entire face of your device. This is your interactive news feed. Adam Mosser, director of production at Facebook, explained the details. “It will automatically slide from story to story.” If there’s no image associated with the post, the user’s cover photo will fill up the background.

Interested in taking a better look at one of the photos that slides by? Press the screen and hold, and the image will zoom out. Tap again to return to the feed. Double-tapping will automatically like the photo on your behalf. There’s even a tiny comment icon on the bottom right. When done commenting, simply swipe it away and you’ll return to the Cover Feed.
Notifications will pop up on the top of your Cover Feed, and you can opt to ignore or respond. If you tap one, you’ll automatically be taken to the app. Simply hit the home button and you’ll be taken back to the Cover Feed. Have multiple notifications you want to get rid of? Tap one and hold and they'll all bundle together; swipe down and poof! They’re gone.
Want to get to your apps?
There are two ways: you can either swipe down, and your phone’s normal home page will appear, or you can press and hold the home button, and three icons will pop up: Facebook Messenger to the left, your apps at the top, and the most recent app you’ve used to the right.
What is Chatheads?
We were really impressed with this concept. Let’s say you’re deeply engrossed in a movie on your phone, or reading an article … anything really, and you get a text message. Traditionally, when this happens, you have no choice but to exit the app you’re in, and pop open the messaging app.

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Russian search engine Yandex’s Wonder app is on the outs with Facebook – here’s why
facebook graph search versus wonder main

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected,” reads the first line of Facebook’s blog post introducing Graph Search. But after Facebook blocked Wonder - the mobile App that launched the same day by Google’s Russian competitor Yandex - from accessing the social giant’s much touted one trillion data-points, that should be rewritten: “Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected… so long as Facebook retains control over the information and how it can be accessed.”
Timing is everything
Graph Search was launched a mere four days after news broke that Yandex had essentially built the mobile app, voice search-enabled version of Graph Search.
Graph Search is a tool to navigate the endless data-points on Facebook, including reportedly a billion people (minus all the cat and dog profile pages), 240 billion photos, and more than a trillion connections. Graph Search goes beyond letting you search for friends, and lets you search for people, photos, places and interests in a more semantic way, within a defined context.
Beta testers can now ask Facebook to find “friends who live in New York City and ski,” “books read by CEOs,” or “music my friends like.” Because of its ability to tap into preferences and essentially recommendations from friends, Graph Search could be considered a threat to not only Google - which released its Knowledge Graph last year - but also to Amazon and even Yelp. Which brings to mind the old saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
But the traditional social-meets-search players aren’t the only ones reeling from the launch of Graph Search: Yandex’s Wonder app is being threatened. In Yandex’s words, “Wonder is an iPhone app that collects your friends’ activity from Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare, and Twitter and makes it easily accessible to you. Now you can ask questions about what places your friends visit, what music they listen to, and what news they read.” Apparently this treads too closely to what Graph Search does… because you can integrate Facebook, thus rendering the app without important social information.
Facebook has reportedly done this because of its policy stating: “You must not include data obtained from us in any search engine or directory without our written permission.” Yandex, however, argues that Wonder is not a search engine or directory, and thus should be free use Facebook’s social graph.
When I reached out to Facebook to find out why they had blocked Wonder, they pointed me to a blog post responding to the issue. The post reads in part, “Over the past few days, we’ve received questions about a few of our platform policies and want to clarify our thinking.
“For the vast majority of developers building social apps and games, keep doing what you’re doing. Our goal is to provide a platform that gives people an easy way to login to your apps, create personalized and social experiences, and easily share what they’re doing in your apps with people on Facebook…
“For a much smaller number of apps that are using Facebook to either replicate our functionality or bootstrap their growth in a way that creates little value for people on Facebook, such as not providing users an easy way to share back to Facebook, we’ve had policies against this that we are further clarifying today (see I.10).”
What about Wonder?
Founded in 1997, Yandex is the fifth largest search engine globally and Russia’s largest search engine, controlling more than 60 percent of the Russian market. Similar to Google, the Russian search giant generates the majority of its revenue through online advertising, and offers multiple products from maps and traffic information to photo hosting and email. But to put Yandex in context, its market cap is $7.59 B while Google’s market cap is $248.28 B—about 32 times as large, and Facebook’s is $67.3 B—nearly eight times as large.
Google, however, is just one of Yandex’s “Big Four” tech giant competitors; with its launch of Wonder, it is now in some ways a competitor to Facebook’s Graph Search—pulling in social data from Instagram, iTunes,, and Facebook competitors Twitter and Foursquare. Currently, Wonder can (or rather, would be able to) provide answers to questions about places, music and news—questions like “What clubs have my friends been to in New York,” or “What electronic songs do my friends like?”. But Yandex plans to gradually expand the types of questions to which it can return answers.
Wonder, which is Yandex’s first U.S. product, was launched January 24. Before Facebook started blocking all API calls from Wonder, many wondered if Facebook—which is still a ways away from building out its own mobile app for Graph Search, according to Zuckerberg—would save itself some time and just acquire the app. The exponential growth of consumers accessing the Web via a growing number of mobile devices puts Facebook at a disadvantage, especially when considering products that go to market first are often the ones that gain traction and staying power. Facebook knows this all too well, considering how the Snapchat-Poke episode played out.
“Wonder was launched to test some of our very new technologies and to get answers on questions like: ‘How good is our new Natural Language Understanding Unit (NLUU), the technology that can transform a human query into a database query,’ ‘How to proceed duplicates correctly (e.g. how to glue the same venue's check-ins made in Facebook, Foursquare and, say, Instagram,’ and ‘How to make semantic analysis of queries,’” Yandex’s deputy CTO Grigory Bakuniv tells me when asked why they launched Wonder. Bakuniv said they’re also interested in testing the “new user interface of a results page with horizontal swiping [and finding out if] it is really convenient for mobile search or should it look different.”
During Facebook’s press event on Graph Search, Zuckerberg said Facebook didn’t have plans to integrate voice search—a feature Wonder boasts—and that it didn’t have an estimate on when its mobile version would be ready.
Yandex has responded to Facebook's blocking of the app, saying: 
"We discussed the issue with Facebook and it was confirmed that Facebook views the application Wonder as something that violates the Facebook Platform Policies (section I.12) and that the access to Facebook’s Graph API will not be restored. 

According to Section I.12, no data obtained from Facebook can be used in any search engine or directory without the company’s written permission. The reason behind Facebook’s decision to revoke our access to their data appears to be that they do consider Wonder to be a search engine, while our understanding of what it is differs from this view.
Wonder's functioning, in its current state, as well as the quality of user experience it provides, largely depends on the access to Facebook’s Graph API. Since this access was revoked, we decided to put our application on hold for the time being. We will be considering partnership opportunities with other social networks and services to offer our users a richer internet experience via Wonder."

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Weekly mobile news recap: Facebook gets into search, BB 10 is looking good

After all of the awe-inspiring designs of the not-so-distant future that were on display at CES 2013 last week, it's hard to return to reality without a little bit of a let down. Sure, we have devices that could barely have been imagined 15 years or so ago, but there were devices we have to wait months until we'll get our hands on them and we want them now! Given that we're stuck living in the now and there were no DVRs for life on display at CES so we can't fast forward at all, we'll just have to make due with what we've got. For right now, we've got the news worth knowing from the mobile world from January 13-18, 2012.

Apple's core is rotting
You know who would probably like to travel back in time instead of forward right now? Apple. The world's most profitable company, one that has sold more products with the Apple name than orchards have sold actual apples (a fact I totally made up right now), is seeing its sales dwindle. The iPad has taken the biggest hit, as production is at the lowest its ever been for the full size tablet. It's been surpassed by the Nexus 7 in Japan. The Apple spin on this is probably something about how everyone already owns an iPad or demand has shifted to the smaller and sleeker iPad Mini, but that wouldn't explain why the even smaller version of the iPad Mini that's capable of making phone calls, the iPhone 5, may also be experiencing weaker demand. A visit to my local coffee shop would indicate there is no shortage of hipsters or illuminated Apple logos (Full disclosure: I'm typing on a Macbook Pro and wearing a plaid shirt, so I'm fully aware of my hypocrisy), but the numbers probably aren't lying here. Maybe the rumored cheaper versions of the iPhone will spark some demand, but what about a cheaper iPad? Apple's lived off the premium quality of its products for awhile now, but demand for the experience is so high that people have been settling for less expensive versions of it. Apple either needs to redefine the market again in a new way or learn to play the game it's "copycats" have perfected.

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