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Facebook Search – Open Graph

Facebook Open Graph

This is my first post on SEOWizz and you may have heard Tim mention me before as the guy who jazzed up the blog. My name is David my primary job is managing a small new media business and Tim has kindly invited me to share some information on something that has become a bit of a forte for me and my business which is social media.

Just over a month ago Mark Zuckerberg & co also known as Facebook dropped a bit of a game changer at their annual F8 conference. The announcement of Open Graph has created a whole new layer to Facebooks existence and functionality as it moves another step closer to becoming the first true semantic search engine. Before I get into that let me break down the contents of Open Graph.

Open Graph API

The API is a piece of web based software which allows the interaction and communication between websites, their pages (objects) and the Facebook database (Open Graph). Its both an attempt to allow webmasters to better inform Facebook of their contents and allow them to build an even more content rich social network. Let’s say you went to watch Strictly Come Dancing on BBC iPlayer or something on 4OD and by doing so automatically allowed the API to access your information on Facebook, it could then recommend alternative shows to watch based on your favourite film and television listings on your public profile and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Social Tools

Facebook have made the API and basic tools so that developers can very easily and cost efficiently take full benefit from the new system. Within hours plugins were popping up left right and centre for all of the popular content management systems. The most employed thus far are the vast array of different “Like” buttons you can install on every page and/or post on your website. This tool allows people to “Like” content for the first time outside of the confinements of Facebook and with the action “Like” feeling far less a commitment than to subscribe or become a fan the result is far higher conversions while an even greater commitment is now made as the item or object in question now appears on said users Facebook Wall and in their friends News Feeds. One of the benefits of Open Graph is its simplification of the communication and linking relationship between Facebook and websites by eliminating the need to login on site to like it. The only time you will be required to login is to share additional information and really interact which currently only some of the larger sites are making use of. See the Social Tools.

Open Graph Protocol

Another feature which has been developed into a zero maintenance plugin is the Open Graph Protocol. It appears using the new FB meta data is a way for both Facebook to drill down the webs content types better and giving webmasters the ability to better categorize their business or service, allowing you to give every page on your website aka “object” a specific type. A full list of the object types can be seen at Open Graph Protocol and include types such as song, tv show, website, blog and even as niche as person, city, restaurant, album, school, band and activity.

The example below is a screenshot from one of our sites <head> and as you can see the fb meta is published in the image below. This can be synchronized with the page https://graph.facebook.com/mywebsite where pretty much anything from a user profile to a group will display you some basic object meta. Its funny how one minute no one cares about meta and then all of a sudden Facebook, the second largest website is reinventing it, and if that wasn’t enough even the peer to peer sharing service previously known as Azureus is using meta for its cross search engine media search.

So What?

So why are people referring to this as “something new” and a semantic search engine if they are talking about using methods as primitive as meta data? An easier way to sub it up would be to describe it as a relationship generated search engine with their algorithm relying on social connections between different users, their recent activity and profile criteria. Therefore the answers FB Search spews out will not always be definitive but tailored to what it thinks you want. A website will also be able to give you a personalized browsing experience as well by connecting up with the API and making use of the same criteria Facebook is using, win win.

Its too early to say for sure though I can imagine a situation where Facebook index a backlink’s value based on the backlink’s relationship to the user searching for that keyword. For example 5 points for a link on your friends profile, 2 for on a friend of a friends profile and 1 point for a friend twice removed? or will they will even take backlinks whether internal or external into account in their indexing at all? The prospect of a comprehensive search based on web pages your connections have recently visited or their friends have recently visited is both overwhelmingly interesting & scary.

Facebook Connect failed in the long run because while the likes of Digg and other large websites adopted the system, it wasn’t user friendly enough nor cost effective for small business owners and didn’t offer enough functionality. The world wide web has embraced Open Graph “Connects successful successor” with arms wide open due to its simplicity and generous benefits to be a part of the future of the internet and get in early.

Experience

I’m testing several of the social plugins on various websites I maintain. Those include the “like” button, the recent activity box, the social recommendations box and of course the Open Graph Protocol which produces the meta for the entire group of plugins. So far I have seen the traffic from Facebook more than triple, although I’m not saying the traffic was of great quantities before their inclusion. The websites in question are also now directly accessible via Facebook Search with of course Facebook knowing as much information as they can currently collect. Once I have more time and research I will post any further findings in the effect Open Graph has had for me. The majority of things I socially promote get between 10 and 20 tweets but some articles I have been posting lately have been getting up to 100 Facebook Likes in little time.

The API requires you create an application for your website for it to function properly and your choice of making it connect on the web side is down to what software or content management system your website runs on. I found setting up both the like button and meta painstakingly easy and would recommend any webmaster who thought their site and content could both add value to and benefit from the platform to give it a try.

Examples

While I may have only scratched the surface of integrating the Open Graph API other websites have been coming out every few days with different very intuitive ways of utilizing this new software. As well as being able to use it for bookmarking you can also add the objects comments to your web page allowing people to act as if they were commenting on Facebook when they comment on your web page.

Take example #1 Blored.com a relatively new website which relies on Facebook API for all of its content creation. I’m not doing a tutorial on how it works so I will break it down into the process. I go to blored and it asks me to write something I like in a box and click the button. When I do that, it creates a page with that sentence as the title and the meta title and fills the content area with links related to the one just created. However it also automatically puts it into the Open Graph system as your like and it appears on the wall as David Likes “Insert Funny Sentence” where the funny sentence is simple pulled by Fb from the meta. If someone decides to click it, they’re then taken to the website to like it, see more related funny likes and create their own if they wish. I have seen some of these empty pages with half a million likes in a matter of days.

It’s terribly simple maths, lets say Average John has 200 friends/connections on Facebook. John then decides to like something. That something is then appears on the majority of Johns 200 friends news feeds. Chances are people who know John share similar tastes/sense of humour and thus 1 or 2% “convert” and decide to “Like” the object also. This chain goes on and on and on potentially feeding Johns “liked” object some traffic.

Controversy

It begs the question at what expense? Facebook have been clever with their approach with Open Graph as past developments have failed and/or gotten them into trouble. This for me is a digital marketing opportunity like no other and the ability to eventually laser target your advertising campaigns with a choice of criteria to make even the likes of Google Adsense quiver. On a human level I appreciate it is at the expense to our privacy. Far more information is now freely available than before and the deep connections people make while freely browsing the internet may leave a lasting Facebook stereotype.

Final Thoughts

Do I honestly think its a game changer? Yes, why? because firstly I could be forgiven for thinking their plan was to get into the search business all along and with Google’s so far falling short of the mark efforts to enter the social media game its potentially an open net (no World Cup pun intended). I mean we love Google, they provide us both great services as webmasters and people who need a search but with them encroaching on pretty much every digital industry outside of search did they really think no one would come knocking?

Google aren’t going without a fight though, Wave was a little complex and even though was boasted about due to what was possible within the browser at the same time mine still crashed an awful lot, and with Google Buzz and their privacy mishaps right at the beginning their latest attempt is opting for a new homepage. To me they failed at this so far because their services seem so separate and disintegrated. While they aren’t intimidated by Facebook’s 400 million plus users the fact people on average spend three times as much time on Facebook as they do Google might (See Facebook Press Statistics). The question is do I go to the iGoogle homepage? my account page? gmail home? Buzz? Wave? Im Lost, are you? A system in dire need of some reorganization and structuring I think. Perhaps their latest efforts are in a view to fix this cumbersome issue with a service aggregating homepage. Where Bing will come into this I’m really not sure but with the FB search being powered by Bing it’s inevitable we shall soon find out.

Facebook Insights the FB’s interpretation of analytics was also well covered at the recent F8 conference but more on that another day. Why is this on a Search Engine Optimisation blog? Because social media suddenly became more relevant.

I shall soon put together a series of tutorial articles at Pixelloop on how to actually incorporate these tools in general websites and content management systems such as WordPress. Links shall appear at the bottom of this article once they are published.

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Author: David Alexander (1 Articles)

A web designer with an interest in the social media potential within a search orientated marketplace.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim June 15, 2010 at 1:58 am

I do see the potential in the idea of ‘social ranking’ you see the listings based on ‘likes’ and social trends. I have dealt before with FB ppc, you can target age groups, single/married, female/male, however the ROI for us just wasn’t there. I am definitely interested in Open Graph from a branding point of view but the problem will always be tracking ROI. I think any social tool will always struggle in terms of delivering conversions and it all boils down to intention. We search Google looking to answer a question or to make a direct purchase, we use Google because of if it’s simplicity. On the other hand I log into facebook to see how friends are doing and to nosey on people. If FB is going to be successful it needs to focus on changing the intention of it’s users from a social one to a commercial one.

I am an SEO dinosaur so struggle to put my social media cap on, however I do see the benefits of it and will be endeavouring to increase my expertise.

Thanks Dave, excellent insights.

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David Alexander June 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Tim, your definitely right about the intention comment. It will be some time before users of fb realise they can use the search within Facebook to search beyond the old fb boundaries and that it might be just as useful. We don’t know if it will be good or not in terms of its search accuracy as it is in its infancy. I do however believe that people like things organized and in one place so it does have the potential to catch on but I feel Facebook will be tweaking this constantly using user feedback to help them improve its accuracy.

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Aaron June 15, 2010 at 8:52 am

Nice post,

I guess I am always one of the first people to read posts from your blog being that I have subscribed through email.

It seems Facebook is really beginning to give Google a little scare. I guess that is why they all over reacting a deleted their Facebook accounts not that long ago. “They said it was for security reasons” but I have a feeling it was just out of aggravation for their new competitor. Especially when I have been hearing leading internet marketers tell everyone to buy Facebook Ads instead of Google ones.

I do find it odd how disorganized Google’s products are, If they hired me I could probably help them get everything strait in a day and possibly increase their income in the long run.

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Tim June 15, 2010 at 11:44 am

Hi Aaron,

FB is something I am gaining an interest in, I am not fully converted to the challenge it presents to Google, however I do see the potential.

We both know Google couldn’t afford you ;)

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David Alexander June 15, 2010 at 1:06 pm

If I’m honest there is a lot of other things Facebook are doing to solidify their place among the elite but I will save that for a future post when I have more information. The potential of allowing Facebook to operate as an easy to use e-commerce engine is among the features. Something that could work wonders for large known brands all the way down to cottage industries. It appears Google aren’t the only company in Zuckerberg’s cross-hair. Beware PayPal…

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ppp June 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Is there a for dummies book?

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David Alexander June 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I’m sure there will be within the next couple of months :p

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seownik June 24, 2010 at 5:32 am

Thanks! interesting post, learned a lot

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Ian Huckabee August 27, 2010 at 9:49 am

This is a great analysis. Search now comes in three flavors: traditional search, real-time search and social search, and while the fire hose of information may be overwhelming, filtering technologies, which is one of the attributes of Facebook OG, delivers to us what is relevant without being stale. David, thanks for this post. It really connected some stray dots for me.

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Branislav August 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Thank you! The excellent guidance…

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