After largely ignoring that little white box at the top of its interface for years, Facebook is finally getting serious about search. The company announced today a new experience that it’s calling Facebook Graph Search. Available as a “beta” or early version now – it will initially let users browse mainly photographs, people, places and members’ interests. It relies heavily on “Likes” and other connections to determine what to show as the most relevant search results for each user. It also offers what you might think of as search filters — the ability to search based on the vast user data that Facebook has in its system (or “graph,” as they like to say).
“Graph search is not Web search,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO. Zuckerberg pointed out that a Web search with the query “hip-hop” will present links about hip-hop; Facebook’s graph search, on the other hand, can answer a query like “Which of my friends live in San Francisco?”
Zuckerberg described “people, photos, places, and interests” as four potential search dimensions for graph search. Zuckerberg used the intersections of these areas to see Mexican restaurants his friends had been to in the Palo Alto area, as well as to find the best-liked photo of him and his wife in order to decide which one to use on a Christmas card. Graph search queries use phrases rather than keywords: “Friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter” was one example.
People: “friends who live in my city,” “people from my hometown who like hiking,” “friends of friends who have been to Yosemite National Park,” “software engineers who live in San Francisco and like skiing,” “people who like things I like,” “people who like tennis and live nearby”
Photos: “photos I like,” “photos of my family,” “photos of my friends before 1999,” “photos of my friends taken in New York,” “photos of the Eiffel Tower”
Places: “restaurants in San Francisco,” “cities visited by my family,” “Indian restaurants liked by my friends from India,” “tourist attractions in Italy visited by my friends,” “restaurants in New York liked by chefs,” “countries my friends have visited”
Interests: “music my friends like,” “movies liked by people who like movies I like,” “languages my friends speak,” “strategy games played by friends of my friends,” “movies liked by people who are film directors,” “books read by CEOs”
– Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO.
Facebook stressed that users can only search content that has been shared with them—for instance, if it’s not in your profile that you watch Game of Thrones or you never check into the Mexican restaurants you frequent, you’ll never appear in those searches. However, if a friend checks you into a Mexican restaurant you attend with them and makes that post public, that will likely feed into any graph searches your friends do. Likewise, it appears that any post that is public (i.e., technically shared with every Facebook user) can be involved in a query made by any user, regardless of their degree of direct social involvement with you.
What About Challenging Google & Other Search Engines?
Facebook isn’t launching a traditional search engine like Google or Bing is — this is a social search engine, and possibly the one most likely to succeed due to Facebook’s billion-plus user base and the vast amounts of data that users put into Facebook.The big question for the long haul is whether or not Facebook Graph Search is good enough that users will change their search activity enough to put a dent in “the Google habit.” Although Facebook is saying that its new search product offers a different use-case than traditional web search, anything that keeps users on Facebook longer and away from Google would be a win in Facebook’s view.It’s also worth noting that Facebook has, as you’d expect, tapped Bing to provide web-based search results when needed to help fill with content that Facebook can’t find within its own walls.
Graph Search FAQ:
Here is what the new feature is all about, and how users can use it:
– What is Graph Search?
Graph Search is a new way for you to find people, photos, places and interests that are most relevant to you on Facebook.
– What is Graph Search useful for?
Graph Search will help you instantly find others, learn more about them and make connections, explore photos, quickly find places like local attractions and restaurants, and learn about common interests like music, movies, books and more. All results are unique based on the strength of relationships and connections.
– What can I search for?
With Graph Search, you can search for people, photos, places and interests.
– How do I search?
Type your search into the blue bar at the top of the page. As you start to type, suggestions appear in a drop down. You can refine your search using the tools on the right-hand side of the page.
Some example searches include:
– People who like tennis and live nearby
– Photos before 1990
– Photos of my friends in New York
– Sushi restaurants in Palo Alto my friends have liked
– Tourist attractions in Italy visited by my friends
– How are you rolling this out?
Graph Search is in a limited preview, or beta. That means Graph Search will only be available to a very small number of people who use Facebook in US English.
– How can I get Facebook Graph Search?
You can sign up for the waitlist at www.facebook.com/graphsearch
– Does Graph Search change any of my current privacy settings?
No. Graph Search follows your current privacy settings. You can only search for content that has been shared with you.
– How do I control what tags, locations and photos can show up about me?
To control tags, photos or posts with locations about you that appear in search, go to your Activity Log.
Users can go to www.facebook.com/graphsearch to get on the waitlist. The roll out is going to be slow so the company can see how people use Graph Search and make improvements. If you’ve any more questions, please feel free to use the Comments section.