Facebook has announced that it's improving its search experience with "Graph Search," a new way to search between Facebook's massive amount of photos, people, and connections that Mark Zuckerberg says is "not web search." The new tool is designed to find specific pieces of content from a precise query, rather than web search, which returns general responses to a general query. "Web search and graph search are really, really different," he says. In order to provide answers in an intuitive way, Graph Search will use a series of filters that look a bit like an advanced tagging system, allowing it to sort things like relationships, interests, and location. Ordinary searches, meanwhile, will be handled by a new partnership with Bing.
Facebook is relying on its wealth of social connections to give people the right results once they've entered a query. Results frontload the people users interact with most; after that, they'll sort by mutual friends and total engagement — the idea is that users will get the information that's both most popular and most relevant to them. Facebook suggests things like "Friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter" for planning a movie night or finding someone you met at a party by checking mutual friends who were at the same party.
While many of the obvious searches involve finding people and things you already know, Facebook also hopes it'll let people find new interests with an "Extend this Search" feature that opens a search up to related queries. That'll become more useful as it integrates current Open Graph tools and video sites like Netflix, especially since Facebook sharing for viewing history was just legalized.
Facebook is also, to some extent, taking on reviews sites like Yelp with a new Places search. Some of the filters will allow users to look for specific categories like "Dentists in San Francisco" and find results that are liked by friends, along with addresses and phone numbers. It's a way to integrate social reviews while giving users results from people they actually know, instead of strangers or pseudonymous acquaintances. More broadly, searches like "Restaurants in San Francisco liked by Culinary Institute of America graduates" will draw on the expertise of a subset of Facebook.
"Web search and graph search are really, really different."
In a blog post this morning, the company also appeared to position Graph Search as an alternative to business-oriented social networks like LinkedIn as well. In a pitch to journalists, Facebook touts Graph Search as a way to track down individuals that work at a given company — a common use for LinkedIn — while also stressing the benefits that come with the insight into personal interests that Facebook brings to the table.
Graph Search will be rolling out "very slowly," starting today with a limited beta for English-speaking users; you can sign up for the waitlist at the link here. For now, it's web-only and includes a limited subset of actions, with no Open Graph actions (like song listens) or Posts available, though they'll arrive in the coming months along with more languages and mobile access. Facebook also recognizes the privacy implications of the tool, saying that "you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook."