It was a well-kept secret, by social media standards, but everyone who guessed "search" was right. At a press conference held at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters today, Mark Zuckerberg -- along with director of product Tom Stocky, and head of search Lars Rasmussen -- walked the audience through something called Graph Search.
This new functionality is currently in beta, and will be rolled out gradually -- although you're welcome to try a search jump or the waiting list.
Essentially, Graph Search seems to be a plain English search tool -- remember "Ask Jeeves"? -- which allows you to put specific queries to Facebook, deriving results from information that members, deliberately or by default, have made available to you. Anticipating outrage, Zuckerberg was quick to emphasize that Graph Search is "privacy-aware." It will only deliver search results based on content you are entitled to view.
Apparently, that was one of the main challenges facing developers. Ambitiously, it will return not just text-based results, but photos too. Results will automatically be tailored to individuals, because each member's "social graph" is distinct. (Graph Search will not exclude sponsored results.)
Whether this will prove more useful than web search remains to be seen. Subtract "personal results" from Google Search, for example, and the links returned in response to a query are blind to interests and preferences.
Arguably, this makes web search results more objective. Facebook would doubtless claim that personalizing results makes them more relevant and useful.
We need to see in more detail how Graph Search works in the wild, but it's likely to be of immediate interest to socially savvy businesses. Facebook instantly touted it as a new way to help people "discover your business." If members can search for a restaurant, or dentist, or dry cleaners their friends "Like," all the more reason to get your Facebook business page Liked by as many people as possible.
Will this give Google any sleepless nights? My first reaction is that when I search for something, I usually want to search well beyond the limits of my social circle's taste and knowledge. But it's too early to come to judgment: Let us know what you think.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution