What Is It?

After using it for a couple of days I'm still not sure what Graph Search wants to be. Is it a recommendation engine, where users go to see what their friends like before making a purchase decision? Facebook Likes initially played this role on the web by being embedded into websites. When you visit a website that had the Facebook widget on their website you could see which of your friends liked the particular website. It was interesting at first but provided little information to the user other than showing which friends had similar interest.

Google took this a step further when they released the +1 button and "Search, Plus Your World". Similar to Facebook's Like button, the +1's played a role on how websites were ranked when you used Google Search (if signed in). It ranked websites/pages that your friends on Google+ +1'd. While Google+ has a respectable amount of members, most of them are users by default by being users of other Google products (Gmail, Android, etc). Facebook however has over 1 Billion users and a far higher rate of engagement . Leveraging those users to create a "recommendation engine" could prove highly useful to users, possibly more so than "Search, Plus Your World" has been. The truth is most people do find out about things primarily from their friends and family and if Facebook could provide a way to streamline that process it could become the de facto search engine for a number of queries.

What's 'Like' Got To Do With It

The problem is Graph Search relies on "Likes" as signals to generate suggestions. While many people have used the Like function for years, often times it when they first setup their profile, or when coerced to receive a discount on a product and sometimes it's for irony. (Like that time I liked Justin Beiber's page) What I'm saying is the Like button is a very vague way for people to show support for a person, place or thing. Basic a search engine off that one (weak) signal is flawed from the start.

Other ways users can search through Facebook's 1 billion users is by using location, dates, schools, ages, and other person information Facebook asks for when users first sign up. This is perhaps the most useful and most obvious use case for Graph Search. Want to find out how many of your friends, friends work at a particular company, not a problem. Want to see how many of your old high school classmates are married, also not  a problem. But any more detailed than that and you begin to run into problems. Graph Search surprisingly does not use public post to search for information. So if someone mentioned the horrible experience they had at a particular restaurant, sorry you won't find it. This particular feature is what is so great about Twitter. Granted Twitter's search isn't anything to crow about either but if you want to know the thoughts of the latest Tarantino film, Twitter will have hundreds if not thousands of opinions you can read. This is perhaps the greatest flaw of Graph Search but one that may appear after the Beta period is over. Facebook does have to be careful on how this is rolled out and how far they reach. They have a history of over-reaching when it comes to privacy then backpedaling if there is an outcry. So the timid steps may be a strategic one to allow users to become comfortable with the new search feature before adding more functionality.


Creep Factor

At inception, Facebook was created for college students to "hook up" and Graph Search takes this to another level. Using queries like "Single women/men in Los Angeles" brings back a plethora of results. You could get even more specific by adding other things in your search like "Single women/men in Los Angeles that like surfing". There are a number of other criteria for parsing your searches using the general data Facebook collects about it's users like, age, education, location, friends of, etc. located on the right hand side after your initial search. You can even just search photos if you want a more visual approach. Some will definitely find it a bit creepy and may lock down their accounts or leave if they begin to get unsolicited messages. This dating "feature" could really put a dampen on internet dating sites in the future.

LinkedIn Who?

One of the not so obvious uses for Graph Search could be very helpful for recruiters, entrepreneurs or people looking for freelancers. Being able to search via occupation provides a great opportunity for users to find people that have a particular skill they need for a short-term gig or for an actual job. Looking for a wedding photographer? Search "Friend of friends that are photographers". The results will show you everyone with "Photographer" as their job and will even show the mutual friend you have in common allowing you to ask the friend if they're any good or if they can make the connection You can even go to their page right from the search to see if they have a portfolio of their work. Things like this do add value to Facebook and it's users but overall Graph Search leaves much to be desired. It will be interesting to see once this rolls out to everyone if it will encourage people to make more thoughtful decisions when using the Like button. If people decide to do the opposite and recoil from the Like button then it'll break the core of what makes Graph Search semi useful.