A Search Engine For Your Friends

Facebook’s big new product is called Graph Search. It’s a search engine for your friends. And soon, everything that’s ever been posted on Facebook.

Graph Search is a search engine for Facebook

- Facebook considers Graph Search to be one of the “three pillars” of what it does, along with the News Feed and Timeline. In other words, it’s a Big Deal to Facebook.

- The idea is that it makes something useful out of all of the data 1 billion
people have poured into Facebook, like 240 billion photos creating 1 trillion connections
. Or more specifically, your friends. “Who are my friends that live in San Francisco?” Prepare to forget your friends and leave it up to Facebook.

- If Google’s a search engine for the public web, Graph Search is a search engine for the private parts (well, the private parts that have been put on Facebook). Facebook’s emphasizing that it’s search that respects privacy controls, which is hard to do. You can only search for content that’s been shared with you or is public. (But expect lots of stuff to turn up through search that people didn’t mean to share! Hence Facebook being careful to mention everyone will have a chance to review what shows up in search.)

It’s designed to pore through people, places, photos and interests

- It’s natural language search. Think Siri on the iPhone, sort of, so a search would look like “photos of my friends in New York from 2008.” At the top of each page, there’s a title, and you edit that to find what you’re looking for. Then the results are ranked by the people you’re closest to, followed by other signals.

- It has four main areas: People, Photos, Places and Interests. Here are the examples Facebook gives for searches, which are sort of limited but also useful:

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”

But it’s definitely a limited kind of search

- There’s only so much stuff that’s been dumped into Facebook and that will be the limiting factor here. What about all of the data I’ve put into Twitter and Tumblr (and Instagram, which isn’t a part of this yet, though it will be)? Or all of the data that’s been put into Facebook but not properly organized? Or that isn’t shared with me?

- For searches where the data isn’t on Facebook, it’ll punt you to a Bing-powered web search inside of Facebook (even though “Graph Search is not web search,” Mark Zuckerberg would like you to chant 3x). Example: searching for Rihanna’s new album. This is a nice get for Bing.

- But there’s some interesting data that can come out of particular combinations, supposing people actually fully insert themselves and aspects of their lives into Facebook’s world, where it can be “graphed.” Imagine searches for “music liked by people who like Mitt Romney who live in California.” Fun! (Again, this supposes your friends both admit they like Mitt Romney, Jay-Z, don’t fake their location and put all of that on Facebook in an organized, official way.) Prepare to learn uncomfortable truths about your friends in ways that you did not expect. Prepare to be doxxed in a whole new way.

- What Facebook promises Graph Search will do “tomorrow” is potentially far more powerful: It’ll cover mobile along with every posts and everything that’s been shared through the Open Graph — in other words, all the content people have ever shared through Facebook. That will be intense. That might be a Facebook search worth getting truly excited about.

The fact that Facebook considers this to be one of its core products, along with the Timeline and Newsfeed, indicates just how ambitious this is: The only way this makes sense is an entire planet connected and indexed by Facebook.

It imagines a world where people can’t possibly not be on Facebook, where they can’t possibly not share everything with Facebook.

A world where Facebook is a chair.

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

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