Facebook Graph Search – five things you need to know
‘This is just some really neat stuff’, says Mark Zuckerberg. But what exactly is Facebook Graph Search, and what does it mean for you, for your Facebook account, and for the future of how we search and how we’re searched for online?
Read more about Facebook unveiling Graph Search.
1. ‘Social search results’
Graph Search essentially aims to change the nature of search engine results by intertwining those results with your friends’ likes, photos and comments.
What does this mean in practice? Well, rather than searching ‘restaurants in North London’ on Google, you’d search the same on Facebook, and receive results that reflect restaurants your friends have tagged themselves as having visited, checked-in at, or liked.
It doesn’t stop there. You can search for ‘friends who’ve been to Istanbul’ and see a list of your friends who’ve visited the city, including photos they’ve taken there. Handy for travel tips? Quite possibly.
Want to get some music tips from your friends? Graph Search lets you search ‘music that my friends like’, and you’ll see a list of suggestions. Alternatively, you could narrow this down to ‘music that my friends in London like’.
You can search ‘photos I’ve liked’, and see a list of every picture you’ve clicked liked on. Or you can search ‘photos John Smith has liked’, and see what your friend has been clicking his approval of.
2. Search strangers too – Facebook Graph Search privacy
There’s arguably nothing revolutionary about Facebook providing search results based on the indexed likes, comments, and activities of your friends, since all of this information was effectively available for you to find already, if you wanted to take the time trawling through old posts for it.
But where Graph Search becomes something very different indeed is in its ability to show you results based on the likes, comments, photos and information of people you’ve never even met.
This means you could be shown results for ‘people in north London’, and see a list of folks who don’t know you from Adam. You could just as easily search for ‘lawyers in north London’. Or ‘single girls in north London’, and be presented with a list of people who might not realise they’re appearing under these search terms.
These sweeping changes to the functions of Facebook search have serious implications for your privacy settings. In a typically cheery voice, Facebook spokespersons suggest you could easily go through your content and information and choose settings that mean you only share things with friends (or friends of friends) and thus don’t appear in search to strangers. But this is no small task to undertake, and the onus is very much on you to choose these settings.
3. The Facebook-Bing relationship speaks volumes
What if Facebook can’t deliver you the results you’re after from its vast user database? It’s not inconceivable – search for ‘restaurants in London my friends like’, and you’ll find some results. Search for a specific greasy spoon round the corner from your office, and you may get no results from your friends or strangers.
That’s where Microsoft Bing steps in. Facebook has partnered with Bing in its new search system – if Facebook itself can’t find any results for you, you’ll instead be presented with Bing search results.
By partnering with Bing, Facebook is drawing a serious line in the search sand against the behemoth that is Google. The Bing-Facebook alliance may not last forever, and it’s possible that Facebook will, over time, outgrow its current need for a search partner.
But for now, Facebook and Microsoft are lining up to take on Google in a pincer movement that combines a vast and willing user-base teeming with historical data, and a proven search tool that’s been itching for Google’s crown.
4. It’ll be roll-out, but not opt-out
Facebook Graph Search isn’t here yet, and it’s taking its baby steps with a small base of pilot users of a beta version. You can presently sign up to join a waiting list to have a go at this beta version, but there’s presently no clear roadmap for when Graph Search will be a finalised tool that will be rolled out for all Facebook users.
If past Facebook updates, like Timeline, are anything to go by, we’re likely to see a gradual roll-out rather than an overnight change affecting all users.
But one thing’s for sure – don’t expect the choice to opt out of the new-look search functions. Timeline had its detractors too, but if you wished to keep your Facebook account, you eventually had no choice but to accept the changes.
In short: want Facebook? Learn to live with Graph Search.
5. You’ve already supplied the building blocks
The busy bees at Facebook HQ have a lot of data to get through if they’re to pull off Graph Search. ’It will take years and years to map the whole index of the graph,’ according to Zuckerberg. But that data is already in their hands, and we Facebook users are the ones who have put it there.
I joined Facebook shortly after university, and thought it was a great way to stay connected to friends who’d spread out across the country, and the world. I liked things, I commented on things, I posted photos, I had photos of me posted by others. And I’ve kept my account open for years since.
Along the way, I’ve created a large reservoir of data all about myself. I didn’t set out to do this when I joined the site all those years back, and I suspect that few users ever paused for this consideration.
Facebook has been looking for ways to monetise the vast database of information that it has amassed from its millions of users, and Graph Search looks to be a major step forward in this aim. We’ve supplied all the building blocks it needs along the way, and every future like, comment, photo or tag will continue to build up Facebook’s arsenal of search data.
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