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Hands on: Facebook Graph Search digs deep, even if it doesn’t always strike gold

hands on with facebook graph search

As Facebook continues to roll out Graph Search, more and more users are getting their  hands on the new feature. Luckily enough, we were next in line and recently had the update hit. So what do we think? Check out our very first hands-on with Graph Search, where we’ll take you through all the possibilities and quirks of this new Facebook function. 

On the surface

First thing’s first, Graph Search is only available via Facebook – there is no standalone app here. It replaces the search and navigation bar that once sat on the top of any Facebook page. The iconic blue bar is still there, but the most recognizable update from a glance is the rearrangement of icons. The unsightly search bar that you recognized as a white box has been removed altogether (trust us, you’re not going to miss it). Instead the search box is now aligned to left side of the navigation bar it takes up far more retail space, nearly the full width of the navigation bar. To get technical, we were able to type 112 characters before the letters spilled over.

facebook graph search 112 characters

The icons for friend requests, messages, and notifications, now on the right side, still work as they did on the older navigation bar. There is one noticeable change with the introduction of Graph Search that we noticed from the get-go: It’s the first time that Facebook has removed the “Facebook” logo and replaced it with the now recognizable Facebook icon. Facebook’s decision though does make sense seeing as how an “F” takes up a lot less room than “Facebook.”

Now onto Graph Search. Entries into the search box are autocompleted, which is nothing new to the social network, so as you type, Facebook will be recommending first and second degree connections, brand’s Facebook pages, automatically generated topics, restaurant recommendations, and lastly Web searches for anything Facebook isn’t yet capable of searching for (courtesy of Bing). Also it’s worth mentioning that the more obscure the search, the longer it takes to process and spit out search results. But for the most part it takes just a second or two at the most.

The search results

facebook graph search friends who play games

The search results are easy to navigate and straight forward. The most relevant results will bubble to the top of the page, while the lesser relevant results, of course, get buried.

In many cases the results page will show up in the autocomplete search box if you’re searching for specific pages, groups, and individuals. For the more blanket searches like “My friends who play games,” Facebook’s recommendations will appear in a results page, where you can dig deeper through filters and inline buttons that you can click on to find out more about that person, page, or group.

The custom filters

Graph Search filters are a boon for those of us trying to whittle down dozens if not hundreds of results to just a few. Fortunately Facebook had the foresight to offer powerful filters that change its criteria depending on what you’re searching for.

facebook graph search friends filter

If you’re searching for a friend and there are multiple results, the filters will help you narrow down searches by characteristics of that person including their gender and relationship, where they’ve lived, likes and interests, and types of media they’ve been tagged in. It’s incredibly thorough and will making people searching an incredibly quick and easy process.

facebook graph pizza hut in ny

When searching for a place, say a Pizza Hut in New York City, Pizza Hut’s Facebook page and individual retail locations are listed. To narrow down the results to more specific locations, you’ll find that you can filter the results by place type, or based on the locations that your friends or family have visited. The accompanying map and “Extend this Search” module on the results page also offers additional ways to refine your search results since these are more personal, auxiliary recommendations.

facebook graph search photo filters

You’ll even find filters that can be applied to photos and videos. The filter’s criteria are specific to media-related searches, so it will ask for the location of where the photo was taken, the date, and friends that have commented or liked the photo.

How Graph Search relates to your friends

facebook graph search bowling alley nyc

When you click through to a friend’s profile without searching for their name, Graph Search automatically injects the search bar with your friend’s name. Clicking on their name in the search bar opens up automatically generated suggestions for other search terms related to your friend. For example when I’m on Molly’s Timeline, Graph Search will recommend a search of her friends, photos, music she’s listened to, and books that she’s read. You can expand the search to view additional recommendations including religious views, political views, and places that she’s visited.

You’ll realize that these recommended searches will encourage you to find out a lot more about your Facebook friend than you would have bothered to uncover without Graph Search. But we’re not the only ones to realize that such easy and direct access to a friend’s information might feel creepy or even intrusive. Don’t get me wrong here, anything you publish on Facebook is technically publicly viewable information, but before Graph Search Facebook wasn’t outright asking us to find out things like where my friends were last month.

There’s room for improvement

facebook graph search bowling alley nyc

Graph Search isn’t perfect, however, and this may have to do with the fact that it recommends results based on keywords, your network of friends, and interests. For instance when searching for “Bowling alley NYC” on my first try the only results that popped up were related to an account by the name of “Scenic N” – which wasn’t quite right. But I did find out that I had one mutual connection with this account. Lo and behold clicking through the recommended results came up with nothing sufficient. What I realized however, was that including conjunctions was critical and that’s where the mistake laid.

The search results for “Bowling alley NYC” were not the same as “Bowling alley in NYC.” But even, the results weren’t accurate and Graph Search ended up recommending bowling alleys in Sweden. The best result came when I fed Graph Search with as many details as possible. So instead of “Bowling alley in NYC,” the query “Bowling alley in New York City” gave me the most relevant outcome. The lesson here being: with Graph Search you will – literally – need to spell things out. Natural language processing isn’t quite as strong as what we’re used to with search engines like Google and Bing.

Overall, the powers that Graph Search gives you within the social network are astounding. You really can find pull all kinds of very specific information. Just know that when it comes to the problem-solving types searches (i.e., where is a venue location, where’s a good place for dinner), Graph Search isn’t quite up to snuff. Bing, Google, Yelp, and Foursquare still have more to offer in these types of categories – at least, right now. Remember that Facebook is only covering four types of search with the early version of Graph Search (people, photos, places, and interests). It’s an ambitious undertaking, but so far, things are off to a promising – if scary – start. 

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