Early last month Facebook announced it was going to start offering a search feature, called Graph Search, to its users. The new search tool would allow users to surface information within Facebook itself — instead of across the Web.
Some may view Graph Search as an attack on Google, and in some ways it is, but at the end of the day it’s a completely different approach to search. It’s social search.
Right now, when you want to find a topical Web site or information (spanning very broad or specific categories) you search using Google. The results are often very impressive. Google does the best job in surfacing relevant information for you.
With Facebook, until now, search has had to be very specific. You had to know the username, business name, phone number or e-mail address of the person you are trying to find. It was extremely frustrating to search within. With the new Graph Search feature you can enter more general terms to not only surface people, but places, pictures and events.
For example, right now if I wanted to look up which of my friends on Facebook like the popular show *Game of Thrones,* with the intent of holding a viewing party, I would be without an easy method to do this. Google wouldn’t have a clue where to start indexing, and Facebook (without Graph Search) couldn’t tell me either. I’d have to post a status update asking who likes the show and hope the algorithms treated me well that day.
With Graph Search, I’ll now be able to search for just that. I can even go one step further and narrow down the search results by searching for friends of friends, or only male friends, or people located in Pueblo.. and the list goes on. I can get very specific with the search query, and Facebook will not only recognize it, but I will also see a list of people with the most important result surfacing at the top.
This is powerful when you think about use cases beyond a simple viewing party. Yelp and Foursquare are arguably two of the better services to assist you in finding somewhere to eat in a new town. Millions of Yelp and Foursquare users connect their accounts to Facebook, posting reviews, likes and tips at various venues across both networks. Facebook can now leverage this information, which up until now was sitting unused by anyone but advertisers, and let its users take advantage of it.
Yes, you can search Google for “best places to eat in Seattle,” but you wouldn’t get the same customized results you are going to from Graph Search. With Graph Search you’ll be able to search “favorite places to eat in Seattle for people my age.” See the difference?
Let’s take Online dating as another example. Online dating right now works something like this: you sit down, fill out a profile, add you what interests you at that moment, put a few pictures up and wait. And wait. But with Facebook, our interests, photos and profile are changing on a daily basis. Our social graph is a living set of various data metrics. This graph is what Facebook compares search queries against. Facebook can take your graph to help you surface your next date through Graph Search. “Show me female friends of my friends who are single, like Indian food and have traveled to San Francisco” is an example of (potentially) how specific you would be able to get when looking for a date. Then knowing you have a friend who knows this person, you can ask for an introduction, or simply make the introduction yourself stating you have a mutual friend. The same situation can apply to those looking for a job, instead of a date. It sounds kind of creepy, and well — it is.
It’s creepy because until now we have had no way of putting into a visual form (other than your Facebook Timeline which is cumbersome and annoyingly difficult to navigate, let alone find a specific post easily) the amount of data Facebook keeps about us. With Graph Search you’ll be able to view all of the photos you’ve ever liked on Facebook with a simple search (yes, this hasn’t ever been easily available up until now).
For better or worse, Facebook has a lot of dirt on all of us. It knows what we like, where we’ve been, who we are friends with and so much more. Notice Facebook only knows what we have done in the past, or what we are doing right now. It currently doesn’t know what we want to do in the future, although it probably has some great guesses. With the addition of Graph Search, it will soon know what our intent is. It will know where we want to go, what we want to eat, who we want to meet.
What does this mean for your privacy? Well, depending on your privacy settings, not much. The biggest impact is going to come from posts, photos and likes you’ve publicly shared. Once Graph Search is enabled for your account, anything you publicly share (not to friends or groups) will be searchable by anyone. But don’t worry, you’ll be alerted when your account has Graph Search and you’ll be given a chance to tidy up those privacy settings for future and past posts.
Facebook has said it’s going to slowly roll out the Graph Search. If you’re the adventurous type, you can request to be part of the early beta by visiting facebook.com/graphsearch on your computer and clicking on the button at the bottom of the page.
I’ve requested my invite and I look forward to the day I gain access to the new search tool. Facebook has always been a social network I used because I had to, not because I wanted to. I hope Graph Search will help show me the value of the data I blindly give to the social giant.
Using this data to help us make new connections or find the perfect place to eat on our anniversary trip isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We are willingly giving this information to Facebook anyways, and if Mark Zuckerberg wants to make a few bucks off of it — so be it.