To hear a lot of its users talk about it, Facebook seems to have an online reputation for changing itself more often than the rest of us change our socks. While not all change is good (regardless of who is doing it), the jury’s out on this latest innovation, the Facebook Graph Search. “What on Earth does that even mean?” you ask. “Graph Search? Does it enable you to search for graphs, or something?” You would think so, but no.
But fear not, gentle reader. Here’s everything you need to know about the Facebook Graph Search.
Unlike a traditional search engine, which conducts searches based on matching keywords, Graph Search is an internal search system that matches groups of words . For instance, you can enter queries such as “Single Lutheran women who enjoy R.E.M. and skeet-shooting”, or ‘My Friends in Bermuda who like cross-dressing and eating artichokes.” So, if you have any cross-dressing friends in Bermuda who like artichokes, they’ll all come up in the results. Lucky you!
So basically, instead of conducting searches on, say, Google based on a keyword, you do a search on Facebook that incorporates the keyword AND phrases. The system is fairly smart, too. Putting in a phrase like “Friends who enjoy grave-robbing”, will result in “Friends who like grave-robbing” appearing over your search results.
Although Graph Search is a feature that operates within the parameters of Facebook, there are opportunities for spillover out onto external sites. For instance, the Instant Personalization feature lets you integrate Friends’ public information into external website content. Also, Bing, which is partnered with Facebook, issues external search results if there’s insufficient results internally.
Graph Search focuses on people, places, interests, and photos. Searches can also be refined based on Facebook information from categories such as Basic Info, Work and Education, or Likes and Interests. Say what you will about “yet another Facebook change,” but this function makes it easy to do very specific searches.
There has been some concern about how user privacy is affected by Graph Search. If you pause and consider, someone could use it to search for people whose interests may be a bit on the controversial side, and then harass them. But Facebook has said that the searches operate within privacy settings that have already been set up by members. In other words, you can only search for information that’s already theoretically available to anyone (it’s the actual finding it that’s the challenge!). So if you’ve never entered that information about the Justin Beiber/My Little Ponies slash fiction that you write, fear not. Your name won’t come up.
But be advised that you cannot opt out of this function. Your best bet is to go into your Facebook privacy settings. Go to your Activity Log and clean it up. Since Graph Search lets people conduct very specific searches very easily, people who are looking for certain likes and interests to poke fun at can create a ready-made list of victims to taunt.
Like so many other tools on the Internet, Facebook’s Graph Search has the potential of:
But love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. Unless, of course, things change again.