A week ago Mark Zuckerberg was on stage talking about the future of Facebook and unveiling Facebook Graph Search. Since then thousands upon thousands of articles have been written on the subject, so why write another one? Every single piece I've read, seem to either misunderstand, or not care about what makes Graph Search different. So here I go, trying to explain what Graph Search really is.
What it isn't
The first thing Graph Search is not, is finished. The beta available to people know is basically a really smart search for content you can already find on Facebook. Not very different from the old search, though it looks a lot nicer and is easier to use. No need to update your settings or anything. People might find older pictures of you more easily, but it's already very easy.
In the future though, Graph Search will expand to with more information. Every Like outside from sites other than Facebook as well as the pictures and comments from Instagram. This is the real treasure of Graph Search, and we've yet to see it.
The second, perhaps more important thing, that Graph Search is not, is web search. This has confused a lot of people. Possibly because of the name, Graph Search. Sounds a lot like Google Search. So what is the difference?
Let's say I make a search for "cats that look like hitler", as one does. On Google, which is a keyword search designed to give you an answer, I'll get tons and tons of hits. Cat's with moustaches everywhere. But on Facebook Graph Search, I'll find nothing. Nothing.
In fact, Graph Search will realize that this is not a search it was designed for and bring up Bing instead. Which returns whatever Microsoft thinks is right. Which has nothing to do with Graph Search. So why did Graph Search disregard my question about Cats?
What it is
Facebook Graph Search is designed to return related things. Think of it like a Thesaurus to Google Dictionary. You can search for what your friends have done, thought, took pictures of etc. But it has to be in relation to something else to matter:
Friends near Berlin with cats that look like hitler
Might actually return a few pictures. Facebook is building a search for really massive amounts of data. So massive, that we only remember them as sort of related stuff: "Remember that place we where at about a year ago? With the monkey? What song was playing?"
Facebook will return an answer to that while Google is still figuring out whether you meant an Orangutan or a Gorilla. So why are so many people confused?
When you do a Graph Search today most of the information it can bring up is photos and if people are friends or have worked together. In a word, it's limited. Which has made a lot of reporters and bloggers believe that it is just another keyword search.
The reason it's so limited is that Facebook is still adding the Open Graph and Instagram to its search. Instagram you know, is a photo sharing service, no different from Facebook photos except that most photos have location data. Open Graph is more exciting, Open Graph is all those Like buttons you've clicked on sites other than Facebook. When the information is in, you'll probably be able to make searches like:
Article I got from Sara that I liked
And actually get the answer you're looking for. This is very different from what Google is doing. In fact, it's very different from anything else on the market.
When is it coming and Who's this for?
I have no idea when these features will be added in. It seems like Facebook is a long way out before Graph Search finally done. Maybe it will never be done, like Google products, it might stay in beta for years while Facebook engineers keep tuning it. It doesn't really matter though, as Facebook evolves, so will Graph Search.
An interesting point to make is that this beta really is for everyone. It's not a technical beta. It's more of a social one. If Facebook had released all this information through search the tech journalists would have all went crazy for privacy. Even in its limited form today, most articles I've seen are about how scary Facebook search is. No mention of the fact that nothing has changed, it's just the pictures you're already sharing showing up.
I believe this beta is here to make people comfortable with the idea of having a powerful search tool on Facebook before they open the floodgates of the Open Graph. Because that is where the new information is. Information that people might have forgotten about or buried in a slew of updates over the years.
Friends that liked articles about George W Bush winning the election? ...oops...
What Facebook Graph Search really is, is the Siri for information on Facebook. It won't compete with Google directly. But it will serve you information about people that you can't find anywhere else. If anyone is still confused, think about is like this: Graph Search is a Thesaurus, Google is a Dictionary.