Facebook is stepping it up again by introducing another major feature called Graph Search, which has been put in place to take on more traditional search engines like Google by basing search results on social criteria, or as Facebook calls it, Open Graph data.
What they’ve done is create very extensive search engine which allows users to search for specific information based on interests, locations, jobs, marital status, and so much more. At their conference today, they displayed the search page which had tons of criteria to choose from to narrow down searches. Each search is titled based on your criteria, such as “People who live in San Francisco and like riding bikes”. What the search does is take an outward approach by starting with the data from your friends, then friends of friends, then the public.
You may be wondering where privacy fits into this. They stress the point that searches are only based on data that each user allows others to see. For instance, if I set my profile to show data to my friends only, then friends of friends and the public cannot find it. However, since we know that many people either have not thoroughly configured their privacy settings or think that no one is searching their public data, it puts them in the rankings of these searches.
What is even scarier is that they demonstrated a scenario where you could search for something like “Single males or females in the Bay Area”. Really? Since when did Facebook turn into a dating site?
The whole point of this tool really is to find friends, services, locations and much more, based on interests and preferences. For instance, if I was looking for a recommended dentist, I could search for the rankings of dentists being used by my friends or even by people within my community or city.
There is also the ability to search for photos based on those posted by friends and location. Maybe I wanted to make a collage of pictures from the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower, and taken by friends or by those in my area. The search then plows through the location data (that’s assuming it’s set in the picture) and then compiles them into a gallery for viewing purposes. A more reasonable example might be trying to see all the photos taken at a friend’s wedding by other friends who attended.
All in all, the graph tool really is a more in-depth version of their basic search engine. During the wrap up, they emphasized the fact that privacy is still a key issue, and when Graph Search does start rolling out to the masses, users will once again be reminded to run through their privacy settings to make sure data isn’t exposed to the wrong audience. They also made sure to let everyone know that they’ve simplified the privacy set up (little pad lock on the right hand side of the page in the top menu).
Zuckerburg closed off by mentioning that if searches don’t turn up any relevant results, trusty Bing search will be there to provide search results to fill the void.
While Facebook sees this as the future of search, one of the problems they fail to realize is that people either don’t update their preferences on a 24/7 basis, or that most users are actually looking to privatize their profiles as best as possible rather than exposing it to the public, which makes the service somewhat useless based on the type of friends you have. Search results may work out if you had at least 1000+ friends, but since most people average between 300-500 friends, it’s unlikely that all those profiles are kept updated or even have enough information to build realistic and accurate results.
It’s scary to know that users are being allowed an option to easily build detailed profiles about each other, which makes me wonder if Zuckerburg is blind to the fact that users still enjoy their privacy. It also does seem like a huge opportunity for advertisers because now they can create more tailored ads to push to users.
If you want to be part of the beta program, check out facebook.com/graphsearch to sign up now.