Earlier this year at the Borrell local conference Yellowbook executive Pat Marshall made the remarkable statement that the site was getting more traffic from Facebook than from Google. I never was able to get complete clarity there or unpack the remark to fully understand it and the underlying data. But it’s symbolic of the growing importance of Facebook in the local ecosystem.
Now with the advent of the Like button and Open Graph local publishers will race to integrate these tools. Indeed, they’ll make local sites more social and personal by showing friends’ activities and so on. They also provide a simple way for local businesses and the publishers to gain greater exposure to networks via Facebook. This was already true to varying degrees with Connect; the new tools merely amplify the effect.
The potential “dark side” of all this is the fact that all the data that emerges from all the Like button clicking will be in Facebook’s hands. Other third parties in the network will be able to access some of that data with permission but no single party in the “Open Graph” ecosystem being created will have the entire data set — except Facebook.
Facebook has given no indication that it will do anything like what I’m suggesting here, but let’s play out a scenario.
All the local publishers in North America and Europe implement Social Plug-ins, etc. Millions upon millions of businesses are “Liked.” That creates a master data set in the aggregate. Facebook will know:
- The favorite sushi restaurants in every city
- The favorite contractors
- The favorite attorneys
- The favorite . . . in every category
They’ll know all these things in the aggregate and in terms of my network in particular. Each “Like” is a “vote” in the same way that each link is a “vote” in the SEO world. But a Like vote is much better than a link vote.
In a very short period of time Facebook will have a ton of valuable data. What will do with all this data (courtesy of all the local sites that will implement Social Plug-ins)?
It could do nothing in particular or it could build the single most effective local directory and search site that exists. This data will be more valuable than anything Google has or any individual local publisher-partner possesses. That includes Yelp, YPG or anyone else that joins the Open Graph and implements these new Facebook platform tools.
Now let’s think back to Google a few years ago.
Google was originally regarded mostly a source of SEO traffic to local sites. It had maps but it wasn’t considered the local competitor it is today. Over time Google continued to improve its local offering and started showing maps + local listings increasingly. It’s to the point now where local SEO is a very limited option. The need for alternative traffic is fueling the rise of CityGrid, the anti-Google.
The story could well be the same with Facebook, should the company decide that local information is important to its users and/or that it wants to make local search a bigger part of the Facebook experience.
One could also imagine a mobile app, “Facebook Likes,” that provides recommendations from my network and from Facebook users in the aggregate. The “coverage” on such an app would be unmatched because of the data that Facebook will be capturing — data that nobody else will have.
Just like SEO in the past local publishers probably cannot afford not to participate in the Open Graph program. For them the benefits are clear and immediate. But in the long term the benefits to Facebook could be far greater.
The question and uncertain thing is the degree to which Facebook wants to offer its own “local search” results or apps. No one at Facebook has given me any indication that they’re going to do something like this. It just popped into my head yesterday at the F8 event. And Facebook wouldn’t do anything for at least a year or two at the very earliest.
However given the goldmine of data that will be coming from the Like button it will be very tempting to do something at some point.