Here Comes Facebook Graph Search. Are IT Departments Ready?

Anyone with an information systems degree probably realizes that social network giant Facebook has presented challenges to companies for a while. Whether employees using bandwidth for personal communications, challenges in monitoring the effectiveness of a corporate presence, the potential for loss of confidential data, or even legal implications of communications over social networks, Facebook and its billion users have provided challenges for companies and information technology departments.

That’s only going to get worse as Facebook Graph Search becomes available to all of the service’s users. The extensive and subtle connections possible in conducting a search could potentially come back to haunt a company, or, paradoxically, give it important insights.

A graph is a mathematical concept best visualized as a collection of dots interconnected with lines. The dots represent bits of information, including users, photos, posts, corporate pages, topic pages, contact data, videos, and comments on the posts of others. The lines are relationships among the dots. Jane Doe might have left a comment on a corporate Facebook page, watched a video, and liked a link to an article. A graph turns what would otherwise be a set of databases into a more socially aware electronic entity.

Graph search technology allows people and organizations to navigate through these intricate webs to find interconnections that can increase their insight and understanding. This isn’t theory; corporations already use graph searches for commercial purposes, as eWeek reports:

Enterprises are also benefiting from the ability to connect people and the information they’re closely related to. For example, Telco Telenor is using graph search technology to deliver appropriate services to the right clients in real-time; T-Mobile is using it to reply in real-time to millions of fans during sporting events; and Glassdoor is using it to link job seekers with opportunities at the organizations their friends and friends-of-friends work at.

But doing this type of analysis via Facebook is trickier than it might seem. On one hand, Facebook has a massive amount of information on people. In some countries, doing research could potentially come into conflict with privacy regulations, particularly if a company can and does connect what it can learn with Facebook to sensitive employee or customer data. Is there sensitive information about the company or its customers that might be available through an unexpected set of search combinations?

There is also a question of how a company could efficiently use Facebook Graph Search, whose interface is clearly designed for individuals doing personal searches. It may be that, for all practical purposes, marketing uses will have to take place through Facebook’s own tools.

Facebook Graph Search could be a great friend or an unpleasant disruption to a company. Information technology should get out in front, experiment with the technology, and begin to understand it now so that many people will start to have access.

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