Mobile version of Facebook Graph Search is worth waiting for

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

When a product is not immediately available to serve your needs, there are two basic ways to respond. You can complain about the company that makes it and point out its flaws, or you can focus on the possibilities, however remote, that lie ahead.

Shortly after it became clear that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Graph Search would not be available in mobile form anytime soon, The Verge editor Tim Carmody responded, arguing that the lack of mobility capability was a symptom of a larger problem within the social networking giant.

Here's an excerpt: "It sharply limits the usefulness of Facebook's new search in almost all the use cases presented... It cuts off access for Facebook's fastest-growing and most devoted pool of users. And it confirms the unfortunate impression that Facebook either doesn't understand how and why to develop for mobile, or simply isn't concerned with making it a priority."

These points ring true. The fact that the wider world seemed to lose interest in Graph Search shortly after Facebook's announcement suggests Carmody is right in his argument that a mobile offering might have put the likes of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) on notice. But I also think the statement he included from a Facebook spokesperson isn't that far off the mark: Graph Search may be one of those ideas that isn't immediately grasped by the world at large overnight, and it's worth taking a bit longer to gather feedback before a mobile version is launched.

App developers are among those who might benefit from some breathing room before Graph Search hits the smartphone community. Many apps and games offer some element of social sharing, but often of the most basic nature--like posting a score on Facebook. Graph Search means a shift away from simple algorithms based on related keywords and looking more holistically at relationships between people. As such, it could end up being a great tool for assisting developers with discoverability, given that recommendations from friends are still one of the most powerful marketing mechanisms to drive app downloads. "Apps liked by people I work with," for example, may sound like a far-fetched query today, but possibly not in the near future. It's unclear to what extent, if any, developers will be able to optimize their apps for Graph Search, but it should be the first thing they think about as the beta process unfolds.

I think it's also worth pointing out that mobile iterations of a product are often much harder to create. Facebook has the money and resources it needs to throw at this problem, but great mobile software requires something else: imagination. There are, at least for me, a nearly unlimited number of scenarios where someone might use Graph Search on a smartphone, and an equally diverse number of ways it could go awry. It would be better to have a stable mobile Graph Search a year from now than something rushed out the door.

"Mobile social networking, multi-point telecommunications, ad delivery and local search are Facebook's future," Carmody writes. Absolutely. But let's let Facebook get Graph Search right in the present first. --Shane