Facebook Unveils Graph Search; Investors Groan

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Facebook(FB) used its mystery press event at company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., to unveil what it calls Graph Search.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Graph Search is a new way to search the billion people and more than 240 billion photos on Facebook, as well as the social network's more than a trillion connections.

Investors were underwhelmed by the beta-search technology, pushing Facebook's shares down 2.5% after the announcement.

There had been intense speculation about search news leading up to the press conference, along with talk of a possible video-streaming deal with Netflix(NFLX) and even a Facebook phone.

Clearly, though, it's early days for Graph Search, which is available only to a small number of people who use Facebook in U.S. English. Users can get Graph Search by signing up for a waitlist.

From a user perspective, Graph Search appears as a bigger search bar at the top of each page. When users search for something, that search determines not only the results they get, but also provides the title for the page, according to Facebook. Users can edit that title and create their own customized view of the content they have shared with friends.

Zuckerberg was unable to say when Facebook might monetize the technology, something that clearly irked investors. Instead, the youthful Facebook supremo promised vaguely that "this could be a business over time."

During his presentation, Zuckerberg emphasized that Graph Search is different from Web search, highlighting both the technology's scale and its constantly changing nature.

While Web search, say, takes a set of keywords and provides the best possible results that match them, Graph Search can combine phrases to search people, places, photos and other content that's been shared on the social network. Another difference is that every piece of content on Facebook has its own audience, and most content isn't public, according to Facebook.

"We've built Graph Search from the start with privacy in mind, and it respects the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook," wrote Tom Stocky, Facebook's director of product management, in a blog post on Tuesday. "It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook."

Eden Zoller, principal analyst at tech research firm Ovum, said Graph Search could lead to a new avenue for revenue.

"Before the arrival of Facebook's Graph Search, the search function on Facebook was basic, and, as such, a wasted opportunity given Facebook's imperative to strengthen advertising revenues," he said in an email to TheStreet. "Graph Search will no doubt leverage member data to provide advertisers with more targeted, personalized advertising opportunities going forward."

The analyst said Facebook is wise to build a sophisticated search tool, as opposed to a Web search engine. "This is sensible, as a full-blown web search engine from Facebook would inevitably have to compete with Google(GOOG) search, and given Google's dominance of the search market, it would be hard for Facebook to make a serious impact -- and win advertising dollars."

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