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Why Facebook Graph Search is the best thing you never knew you always wanted

fb search cycling home townWell, the Facebook Phone may have been taken out back and shot today, as yet again hype over the mythical product was misplaced. But honestly, we got something way, way better: Facebook Graph Search.

It might not sound as sexy, but trust us, it is. Graph Search is the answer to most of our Facebook complaints. It can help you find a link that’s buried in a News Feed; it can help you dig through photo albums for that one specific shot; it can help you find that particular restaurant a friend insisted you try. Yes, these are very specific problems, but the amount of time we spend on Facebook and the amount of content we’re pouring into it means that they are relevant. Graph Search is finally going to attempt to help us get something back from Facebook.

Currently, Facebook search is… limited. Actually, that’s the nicest way to say it. It’s really quite awful. Like the white bar on top of your page currently says, you can search for people, places, and things – and that’s it. Once you’re beyond trying to find a Facebook app, Business Page, or a person (and even that can be tricky), you’re usually bounced into Bing. You can’t add context or cues to Facebook search; you can’t look for places you went in 2010 with your sister or search through your friends who have lived in Texas. Not with the old search, anyway. Graph Search lets you do exactly that.

As you might expect, this was an incredibly demanding endeavor from an infrastructure perspective. “It was a big engineering challenge,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this morning. “There are a trillion connections on Facebook. It’s taken us more than a year to do it.”

Just take a look at how refined your query can be using Graph Search:

graph search refine search

And that’s just the beginning. In this morning’s demo, Facebook hit that “see more” text to reveal a page that allows you to dive deeply into all of the data it’s amassed. For the time being, the data set you’ll be able to access (once the beta rollout gets started) lets you search for information about people, photos, places, and interests. But given the liberties Facebook will allow you to take with your queries, that’s actually quite broad – and it will ease a handful of headaches.

restaurants friends in london

The fact that you can now conduct searches like “photos of my family in Paris” or “restaurants my friends checked-into last weekend” or “people I met in 2011 in New York” is amazing, but it’s also much bigger than just an antidote to our maze-like wanderings through Facebook; it’s the realization of social search. Finally. 

There is no shortage of criticism for the fact that Facebook takes our data and makes money off of it. But this time, marketers aren’t the only ones benefitting from our borderline narcissistic digital cataloging – we are too (assuming it works). Every photo tagged, every place checked-into, every relationship listed, it will all finally begin to mean something after it leaves the News Feed. Graph Search will make the songs you listened to, things you bought, and stories you read far more important to others. We already know that the Open Graph will enable Facebook to know everything we do, should we so choose to participate in it to the fullest extent. This shared data will become searchable to the Nth degree. 

Our relationship with Facebook has become a contentious one. It’s a platform we feel obligated to be a part of, for most of us, begrudgingly so – and that’s because there’s this “what’s in it for me?” feeling. We know what’s in it for them; advertising dollars. Marketing potential. A data source so rich that the market is only beginning to realize and leverage its value.

But finally, there is no question that this could have massive user-facing benefits: It’s a searchable, personal encyclopedia of our experiences; it’s literally all about you. Theoretically, the more you put in, the more you get out. Of course, the more you put in, the more third party advertisers get out too – that’s the trade off; that’s always been the trade off. It’s just that this time, we’re getting a better exchange rate.