Facebook Graph Search, Through a Supply Chain Lens

There were plenty of rumors about what Facebook was going to announce yesterday, everything from the launch of a Facebook phone to the introduction of a “Dislike” button. But the big announcement was about Graph Search, “a new way for you to find people, photos, places and interests that are most relevant to you on Facebook.” While traditional search tools were designed to search the Web, Graph Search was designed to search a social network — specifically, the immense quantity and wealth of content contained in Facebook’s 1 billion profiles, 24 billion pictures, and 1 trillion connections. According to the press release:

Graph Search and web search are very different. Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: “hip hop”) and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: “my friends in New York who like Jay-Z”) to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that’s been shared on Facebook. We believe they have very different uses.

Graph Search, which is still in beta, allows users to enter natural language queries, such as “People who like tennis and live nearby,” “Photos of my friends in New York,” and “Sushi restaurants in Palo Alto my friends have liked” (as well as some funny search ideas people are already posting on Twitter under #FacebookSearchIdeas).

So, is Graph Search a big deal or not?

At first glance, the capabilities of Graph Search don’t seem much different than what you can do with “advance search” filters using traditional search tools. The big difference, however, is the user interface. According to a posting on Facebook’s engineering blog, the company had “discussed and debated, and built several simple prototypes of graphical UIs that allowed users — click-by-click — to build up structured, database-like queries. But they all seemed too complex and not quite up for the full scope of Zuck’s [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] challenge to us…If a person simply entered the title of the content they were looking for, could we then build a system that would understand the searcher’s input [emphasis mine] and find the content for them?”

The ability to use natural language queries is one reason I believe Graph Search is a big deal, mainly because it’s a step toward something even bigger: user interfaces driven by spoken commands, specifically for enterprise apps (see “Siri” Comes to Enterprise Apps, one of my predictions for 2013).

Graph Search is also a big deal when you think about applying this technology to existing and emerging Supply Chain Operating Networks, like those managed by Descartes, LeanLogistics, GT Nexus/TradeCard, E2open, Ariba, C.H. Robinson, and others that are the Facebook equivalents in the supply chain and logistics realm. “Graph Search takes us back to our roots and allows people to use the graph to make new connections,” says Facebook in its press release. And the same opportunity to make new connections exists in the supply chain realm, if you were part of a Supply Chain Operating Network and could use Graph Search to conduct queries such as:

  • Battery suppliers in China my industry peers have liked
  • 3PLs with warehouses in Nevada and Tennessee with Automotive connections
  • Professionals with S&OP experience in retail who speak Spanish and live in Canada
  • Trucking companies in Utah with more than 10 refrigerated trucks with the most likes
  • Companies my Tier 1 suppliers are connected to in China, India, and Brazil
  • TMS and WMS software applications my connections like

Simply put, the ability to discover and establish new business connections, either company-to-company or person-to-person, is a key value proposition of network-based solutions. Providers are starting to explore ways to enable this capability (see, for example, Descartes Community), and Graph Search would greatly aid that effort. Of course, the value is ultimately dependent on the accuracy and completeness of the information in the network, especially information contained in business profiles (see “The Problem with Big Data”).

So, that’s my view of Facebook Graph Search through my supply chain lens. What do you think? And what supply chain queries would conduct on Graph Search? Post your ideas below or on Twitter using the hashtag #SupplyChainSearchIdeas

UPDATE: Watch Adrian discuss the Rise of Supply Chain Operating Networks on Talking Logistics.

(Note: C.H. Robinson, Descartes, and LeanLogistics are Talking Logistics  sponsors).