Facebook Graph Search to dig up details on your friends

Graph Search tool allows Facebook users to search through data on friends

Nicole Kobie
16 Jan 2013

Facebook has unveiled Graph Search, a new tool to make it easier to hunt out information on your friends, based on their location and other keywords.

Graph Search allows a user to search for "friends who work at my company and like skiing", for example, bringing up a list of friends - and friends of friends - who fit that category.

"Graph Search is designed to take a precise query and return to you the answer, not links to other places where you might get the answer," founder Mark Zuckerberg said at the launch event. "What you've seen today is a really different product from anything else that's out there."

It relies on users filling out full information about their location, place of work and likes, but is "privacy aware", only allowing a searcher to see what is already available to them.

"Graph Search will appear as a bigger search bar at the top of each page. When you search for something, that search not only determines the set of results you get, but also serves as a title for the page," the company said. "You can edit the title – and in doing so create your own custom view of the content you and your friends have shared on Facebook."

Facebook Graph Search

The system is in beta, and limited to people, photos, places and interests, with more features and search terms to come, Facebook said. At the moment, it's only available to users with US English, and doesn't search content in posts or "open graph actions", such as songs played via Spotify.

Web search versus Graph Search

Facebook claimed that its search tool wasn't competing directly with web searches, such as Google - analysts saw it as more of a challenge to LinkedIn and restaurant review sites.

Facebook noted web searches try to match keywords to pages featuring those terms, while Graph Search combines terms, such as people, places, photos and other content - for example, "people who like tennis and live nearby" or "photos of my friends in New York", or searches for a friend of a friend when you know what school they went to.

Facebook Graph Search

"I don't necessarily think that a lot of people are going to start coming to Facebook to do web search because of this, that isn't the intent," said Zuckerberg. "But in the event that you can't find what you're looking for, it's really nice to have."

Analysts warned the search tool could be of limited use. Despite Facebook claiming a trillion connections and 240 billion photos from its billion users, not all of them will be offering up enough data for the search to be useful, said one analyst.

"Very well-connected individuals have a rich treasure trove of data that they can mine, but the average person's storehouse of data is much sparser and has less relevance to these queries," said Ray Valdes, an analyst for Gartner, according to Reuters.

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