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Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) is ready to let more of its users think inside the box.
Graph Search -- the social graph platform that the popular website rolled out in January to those wanting to kick the tires while still in beta -- is going live.
Facebook will start rolling out Graph Search to all users today, though it may take a few weeks before everyone begins to see the new search box at the top of their news feeds.
The market wasn't exactly wowed by Graph Search when it was introduced in mid-January.
"This could potentially be a business over time," CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained at the time, squelching hopes that this could be a near-term moneymaker for the leading social networking website operator with more than a billion active users.
Facebook shares have gone on to surrender roughly 20% of their value since Graph Search was introduced, contrasting the market's broad ascent. Disillusionment when it comes to Graph Search isn't the lone culprit, but it's a potential game changer that got rained out.
It doesn't help that the market is underestimating the value in Graph Search. Wall Street was hoping for a direct rival to Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Bing. It was silly to expect that, especially since Microsoft has been an early investor and partner in Facebook.
If all Facebook wanted was a Google-like search bar it could have merely handed the keys to Microsoft's Bing team and let Microsoft have at it.
It's clear that Google sees Facebook as a threat. It's why Google Plus has become a cornerstone of the search giant's properties, even though the company has historically not had a lot of patience for sites and projects that don't take off right away.
However, Graph Search shows that Facebook is hoping for bigger things than conventional search. Graph Search is about tapping friends -- and more importantly, friends of friends -- as resources.
Need a plumber? Are you looking to date a lawyer? Do you need a cool place to stay in the Florida Keys? Graph Search lets you scour the universe of willing friends and friends of friends to find references that you can trust. This is huge, but the market has looked the other way because it's not in the wrapper of Google.com or Bing.
The opportunities to monetize Graph Search may not be the same as traditional paid search, but it's an approach that could eventually be seen as superior for a wide range of query requests.
Facebook shares still have a long way to go before getting back to where they were in January -- and even a longer haul back to last year's IPO price -- but Facebook is trying. The market's merely looking the wrong way.
Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are locked in an even bigger battle
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