The big Facebook announcement is out and it’s about search! In a press event Tuesday at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Graph Search, a new feature designed to help users search within the social network. The internal search engine provides results for specific queries based on privacy settings. Zuckerberg emphasized numerous times throughout the unveiling that information that people had not made available would not come up in results.
“The search we wanted to build is privacy-aware,” he said, adding that “You can only search for content that has been shared with you.”
The new search feature is not necessarily better than Google, but it’s cool in a very different way. The functionality is simple: A user enters a query in the Graph Search tool, for example “friends who like Bob Marley and Alicia Keys.” The tool returns a list of friends who have “liked” each of these musicians in a context that has not been hidden through Facebook’s privacy controls. A Facebook user can also use Graph Search to find a local chiropractor, restaurant, or pet shop based on the “likes” of his or her friends.
The feature also uses other signals to come up with answers apart from “likes.” Another query example could be “photos taken before 2006.” Graph Search will then return a compilation of friends’ photos that were posted or said to be taken before 2006 (that haven’t been hidden through Facebook’s privacy controls).
Zuckerberg referred to the new tool as “a completely new way for people to get information on Facebook.” For those worried about their privacy, that may actually be improved through Graph Search because it comes with tools to help people understand who can view content they’ve shared, as well as providing the means to restrict access to content. Within the tool, Facebook allows users to untag photos of themselves and send a message to people who have tagged you in their photos to request the photo be removed.
To answer a question about the partnership with Bing rather than one with Google, Zuckerberg said, “When people share something on Facebook, we want to give people the ability to broadcast something out, but also be able to change their privacy settings later and take content down.” He added that that kind of infrastructure “takes a lot of commitment from the partner.”
Reactions to Facebook’s Graph Search are mixed; some online critics immediately declared the event and the tool both to be a flop. One person commented that “After the initial glow fades Graph Search also seems like exactly the type of intrusion that Facebook critics abhor,” and the company’s stock fell by 3%.
Other more optimistic people have pointed out that the new search tool provides a plethora of opportunities for businesses. There are currently no ads associated with Graph Search, but some have predicted that Graph Search will persuade advertisers to increase efforts to acquire Facebook “likes.” Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, suggested that the Graph Search function could be useful for recruiting purposes.
At yesterday’s press event, Zuckerberg emphasized that, while the tool uses Microsoft Bing to provide Web search results to queries when Facebook doesn’t have an answer, the tool is not a Web search. He explained that Web search is designed to take any open-ended query and return links, whereas Graph Search is intended to take a precise query and return an answer.
Graph Search is a brand new concept that is still a work in progress. According to Zuckerberg, it will keep Facebook engineers busy for years to come with improvements and tweaks. The feature is currently focused on queries related to people, photos, places, and interests. Eventually Facebook hopes to expand the function to cover mobile, languages, posts and Open Graph data.
If you’re interested in checking out Graph Search, there is an invitation on the Facebook website where you can sign up to be on the list for the beta version of the tool There are also videos there that explain how it works. While Graph Search is only available on the computer-based version of Facebook, the company has expressed that they are working on a version for the mobile platform as well. Only a few hundred people were given access on Tuesday, following the announcement, and Facebook will be using the results from these initial users to help tweak the service before making it available to everyone.
Were you able to access Graph Search? If so, what do you think of it?