Just over a week ago, Facebook released Graph Search to hundreds of millions of English-speaking users in the US. Soon it will make its way to the UK, and later this year it will be available to mobile users. But what is Facebook Graph Search and how can it help Facebook’s users?
Facebook Graph Search is Facebook’s new search engine, which some see as a threat to Google. The idea is to make people, places, photos and other interests more discoverable and to return results based on your friends’ opinions and activities. For example, searching for “friends who have been to New York” or “Chinese restaurants that my friends like” will provide you with information based on your social connections in the form of a graph (hence the name).
Facebook Graph Search can tap into users’ data, such as location and “likes”, in order to generate results based on what it knows about you, your friends and information that has been made public. These “friend-specific” results are likely to be more valuable to you than opinions from people you don’t know, such as strangers on review sites.
As well as being useful and helping the company live up to its mission to “make the world more open and connected,” Facebook hopes that the Graph Search tool will keep users on the site for longer, making the platform more attractive to advertisers.
This could be a challenge. Since the PRISM scandal, many users are reluctant to share more of their lives, as they feel their trust and privacy has been violated. While Facebook is adamant that the user’s privacy settings will remain unchanged with the Facebook Graph Search update, according to TechCrunch, one change you should be aware of is that it will be easier for friends and strangers to find pictures and videos of you that you chose to be “untagged” from. The availability of this information will depend on the privacy settings of the user who uploaded them.
Considering that Facebook Graph Search will often tap into a user’s “likes” for information, the accuracy and validity of results is highly questionable as people “like” pages for many different reasons. It may be to enter a competition or to view information which can have little to do with them actually recommending that product or service.
Also worth mentioning is that Facebook Graph Search does not pull information from status updates, which is usually the place where users will speak of what they truly like. Overall, the search results will miss a lot of relevant information.
Of course the social network will want to iron out some of the limitations and problems discussed above, such as expanding its search engine to make the data more accurate and valuable by tapping into third-party sources. For example, if you want to know a particular song your friends like, connections with Spotify will be far more beneficial to deliver precise results. Although whether or not these connections can be made, particularly with rivals, is another story.