This afternoon Facebook launched a new internal search service called “Graph Search” that will allow users to search for photos, shared interests, and many more items among their Facebook friends lists. The announcement comes days after techies and analysts alike had offered predictions – ranging from a new Facebook phone to a new site design – about what Facebook could be announcing at their media event today. Those analysts who corrected predicted that Facebook would be launching their own search service, collect your prize.
So what exactly is Graph Search? In a short video featuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, we are reminded of a few “pillars of Facebook” that define the user experience. The first is News Feed, which is where users can see recent information from the people and pages they deem important to them. Second is the newer Timeline feature, which is described as your personal existence on Facebook (and perhaps even more holistically, on the Internet). You get to control when gets seen (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t get seen), and after tailoring your own page you open it to the world.
Graph Search will return specific results to any question you may ask, always keeping the social aspect at the forefront. In the introduction video, it’s being branded as more of a social search than a technical (read: Google) search. As a prime example, say you want to search a particular movie – how about “The Dark Knight Rises”. If you search this on Google, it will return the official movie website, a link to the IMDB page, and if you’re signed in, Google will likely return local theaters and playing times. If two people from New York City search “The Dark Knight Rises” on Google, they will likely get the same results.
However, if the same two people search “The Dark Knight Rises” on Facebook’s new Graph Search, the results will be quite different “due to the depth of personalization [Facebook] does”. Graph Search is designed to find individuals among your friends who also show an interest for “The Dark Knight Rises” (or, perhaps more broadly, superhero movies), and thus will return a list of suggested friends to see the movie with.
One thing that strikes me about Graph Search is that it will require a shift in thinking regarding social barriers, particularly in the way we simultaneously deal with our online and offline lives.
At the end of the introduction video Zuckerberg informs users that Graph Search is definitely in its early stages, but that Facebook wanted to launch it as early as possible in order to see real time feedback from early users. As more users start to use Graph Search, Facebook will be able to tweak and add more searchable items; think of Graph Search as an evolving, dynamic product rather than a one-size-fits-all tool.As described by Facebook Product Manager Keith Peiris, the types of search questions Graph Search will be able to solve are “nuanced, social questions that you wouldn’t typically think to ask of a search engine.” Keeping in line with this ideal, you can do a “reverse search” of the above, and ask Graph Search to identify movies you may enjoy based on who your friends are and what movies they like.
One thing that strikes me about Graph Search is that it will require a shift in thinking regarding social barriers, particularly in the way we simultaneously deal with our online and offline lives. Facebook has chipped away at this for the past several years, but using the online information you obtain via Graph Search in an offline setting will probably be awkward at first.
Another example of Graph Search posted in a separate video exemplifies this issue. Users can search for their Facebook friends from work who also like to ski. Once you obtain this information offline, how do you go about bringing up the subject offline? This may seem trivial with an example of work buddies who also like to ski, but what if it’s something more taboo? Or even if what you’re searching for is not taboo, how will people react to this situation in the future: “so I see from Facebook Graph Search that you like to ski, wanna get a group together and rent a condo for the weekend?” Will people be fine with this situation, seeing it as another opportunity to network and build relationships? Or will they be creeped out by another measure from Facebook that allows for intrusion into others’ lives, even if that intrusion is benign?
Facebook is betting on the former, and based on what I see from my fellow Millennials, I think that is exactly what they will get. Point blank, my generation just doesn’t care about privacy.
And along with that last statement, I signed up for the Graph Search Beta. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally find some friends who share my broad musical interests (from Sara Barielles to Wu Tang to Dash Berlin). One can only hope, right?