Zuckerberg announced Graph Search semantic search feature in January of this year as a beta, then as a limited release in March. Four months on, I still don’t have access to it and neither do a majority of Facebook users.
When announced, it sounded like a powerful search feature at last, although one that could be abused. For some reason, Graph Search is a flop so far.
To the extent that it's available and works as advertised, Graph Search is seen as a potential privacy invasion or, at least, something that requires special care to protect one’s privacy.
In fact, if you Google the words Facebook Graph Search and sort by, say, the most recent week, the results are filled with requests for how to remove it, sites making fun of it or articles about how dangerous it is.
With a limited rollout, it’s still unclear whether Graph Search will be useful to ordinary users, or merely serve as a powerful tool for stalkers, con artists and opportunists.
Facebook’s most recent bold announcement on April 4 is Home, the user interface for select phones high-end Android phones that places a persistent Facebook layer on top of all other applications. The flagship HTC First phone comes with Home as a default interface layer. (A limited version of the interface executes within Facebook’s iOS app.)
Facebook Home sounded like an incredibly good idea. Facebook fans got a “screensaver” on their phones’ home screens made up of their friends’ photos, and they could keep chats with friends going on top of other phone apps.
But like so many other Facebook features, Home is another flop. Carriers are backing away from it and users are rejecting it. (AT&T famously dropped support for the HTC First “Facebook phone” just weeks after its launch.) Facebook itself is reportedly telling European carriers to “hold off” on introductions of the HTC First.
All these failures add up to a clear pattern: Every major new feature not forced on users by Facebook (such as the Timeline and “Suggested Posts”) completely fails.
Facebook simply can’t get users to try new things. But why?
I think the explanation can be found in how users view Facebook in the first place. I’ve found that most Facebook users don’t really view Facebook as a service they enjoy for the features and functions, but simply as a passive location where their family and friends are, a kind of public facility.
It’s not like a hotel where users are looking for services. It’s more like a public beach where they just want it to stay the way it always was.
On the one hand, users can’t be lured away easily by rival social networks with better features because users don’t care. But on the other, Facebook can’t achieve all its monetization goals through increased engagement with new features because, again, users don’t care.
Facebook users who do care about features above all leave Facebook and move to Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and other smaller social networks. Although the number of users leaving Facebook is a small percentage, these are more likely to be the highly desirable active, engaged users.
That leaves Facebook with a concentrated apathy demographic, the non-using user segment. And that skewed user base becomes even harder to sell new features to. (It’s not great for advertising, either.)
For the past three years, every significant new feature Facebook has introduced with the exception of Timeline has flopped, fizzled and failed.
If Facebook is to succeed in the long run, the company will simply have to figure out how to convince users to try new features. Because if they don’t, Facebook will increasingly become the Internet’s geriatric ward, a relic of the Internet’s past.