Everything you want to know about Facebook Graph Search


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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.

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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.

Cat that looks like Hitler

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?

Ballmer chasing cake

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?

What’s missing?

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.

4 thoughts on “Everything you want to know about Facebook Graph Search

  1. Excellent rundown of some of the common misconceptions of Graph Search. I believe a big potential of Graph Search is knowledge management. Many times there is content you are looking for, that you have previously seen, but it has been near impossible to find. Graph Search promises to put all that content at your fingertips with a quick search. You can also more readily find content from a selection of individuals without having to visit their profiles, and I believe it will enable search into public updates of people that you do not follow today. This will open up possibilities for connecting with new interesting people over Facebook, and expanding your networking beyond people you have met. We will start following more people, rather than friending them, providing us with great new content in similar ways as Twitter. This wil of course require a change in mindset, which will only happen with a confidence in, and feeling of control of, who can see what on Facebook. And I’ve not begun to describe the potential for advertisers…but that’s another story 😉

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  2. I think the challenge for the average person is the feeling of increased transparency. As a professional speaker on how to build a personal brand with social media i constantly get the question; what’s the do and don’t of sharing. Pictures, liking pages and articles and now when comments are open…Personally I’m a big fan of transparency because I think it paves the way for diversity. We get used to people being different from ourselves and being fine with it. Ultimately that makes us more comfortable with being authentic and sharing, liking as we please.But it’s a process that takes time. A long time. Initially I think Graph Search can silence some people. As Axbom points out some of us are really uncomfortable with information being exposed without us feeling in control.

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    1. Exactly why I believe the beta was launched without Open Graph information. I agree with that people find this scary, but graph search is just highlighting content that is already public. If anything, such a feature will give people more security by showing exactly what is shared.But FB is a scary behemoth right now, nothing they do will be received well. 🙂

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