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Graph Search highlights Facebook's unwillingness to bend to Wall Street

The "Hacker Way" is alive and well at 1601 Willow Road, and that means focusing first on the demands of business, not the demands of Wall Street.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
2 min read
James Martin/CNET

Facebook bends to no one, particularly not bankers and investors looking for perfection. That's the message Wall Street received with the beta release of Graph Search, the social network's first milestone launch since becoming a public company.

Graph Search is Facebook's experimental take on search and alters the social-networking experience to support discovery through natural language queries on people, photos, places, and interests.

Graph Search is so significant in scope and purpose that Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg anointed the product a "third pillar," which makes it as core to Facebook as Timeline and News Feed. The status also makes Facebook's decision to release an unfinished product quite curious. Lest Zuck forget, the company now has investor expectations to live up to.

The puzzling decision is actually an easily decipherable message that reads like this: Facebook intends to hold true to its risk-taking, ship-early-and-ship-often "Hacker Way" mentality.

This should not come as a surprise. Zuckerberg warned investors with a letter in the company's prospectus that this would be the case. On Tuesday, he followed through on the promise with a Graph Search release strategy that seems to closely emulate the pre-IPO launch of Timeline, which debuted in half-baked form before going out to the general public months later.

"Facebook is still the same company post-IPO," Altimeter industry analyst Susan Etligner told CNET. "They're still using agile development. They'll release products the same way. They go to market when they want to."

When they want to is exactly right. Tom Stocky and Lars Rasmussen, Facebook's product leads on Graph Search, told CNET that the rollout will take months, not weeks.

"Part of this slow rollout is so that people can get used to this new world," Stocky said. Wall Street's expectations or possible reactions didn't factor into the company's release strategy, he added.

The we'll-do-it-our-way attitude, which some said would never pass muster in the public market, is already clashing with Wall Street types who have high expectations. Facebook has lost its market momentum since Tuesday's announcement, dropping to $29.85 Wednesday from around $31.50 before Zuckerberg lifted the veil on a piece of still-unfinished software.