At Facebook’s press event today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg opened by saying that Facebook has three pillars: the News Feed, the Timeline, and a third: “Graph Search,” which is Facebook’s new, super-charged search product. He pointed out that, at this point in time, Facebook users can only search through content that has been shared with them, either by being made public or by those you are “friends” with on the service. Zuckerberg made it a point to differentiate Graph Search from a normal Web search, saying that Graph Search is meant to “return an answer,” instead of a page of links.
And the answers, of course, lie in the rich data that Facebook has stored in its ever-growing fortress.
Facebook has gone to great lengths to make Graph Search understand what you’re looking for. It does a nice job understanding natural language queries, like “Friends who live in New York City,” or “Friends who like How I Met Your Mother.” If you’re looking for Rick, who is a friend of Bob, you can search “people named Rick who are friends with Bob” and get a list of all the Ricks that Bob is connected to.
At launch, Facebook’s Graph Search lets you search through people, photos, places, and interests using natural language queries like the ones in the above examples, and you can really drill down and make your queries extremely targeted. Want to search for a photo of a friend taken in Las Vegas? You can do it. Want to know which TV shows are popular with nurses? You can do that, too. Graph Search isn’t limited to just friends — if information is shared publicly by a user, it can be searched. Of course, your privacy settings do come into play here, so if anyone — friends included — searches for information that matches you but you’ve protected it, you won’t show up in the results.
Zuckerberg made it a point to mention that Graph Search is a beta product. Adding a powerful search element to Facebook means that content that might have been buried before has the potential to resurface — content that users might have forgotten about, or thought was private. Before Graph Search rolls out to everyone, a banner will appear at the top of the site asking users to review the content they’ve made public so that they can hide it if they wish.
And, of course, a Facebook event about search wouldn’t be complete without any mention of Bing, Facebook’s search partner. Bing will be integrated into the site in a more direct way, allowing you to search queries like, “What’s the weather in New York City?” so that you can get an answer from Bing instead of a link to a Facebook Page with 2 likes. Bing will be used for queries that can’t be answered as well with Graph Search.
Graph Search will be rolling out slowly and is open for a limited beta (which you can sign up for here). “Hundreds or thousands” will get access today, and Facebook could offer no word on how fast the roll-out will be or when the rest of the world will gain access to Graph Search. We’ll keep you up to date as soon as we learn more.