Facebook unveiled its newest feature during a much-anticipated event at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California on Tuesday. Called “Graph Search,” the new feature is an advanced social search engine for the website, allowing one to automatically filter a search by specific attributes such as a user’s college Friends, Friends from a particular location, or photos from a particular time, based on the terms that a user enters in the search bar.
The new feature, which drastically improves Facebook’s old search, was touted as a way to find everything from restaurants to prospective employees to dates. As such, it could prove to be an existential threat to rival websites LinkedIn, Foursquare, Yelp, even OK Cupid.
Looming large behind the proceedings Tuesday was of course Google; Facebook attempted to demonstrate why its constrained Graph Search is better at serving up the actual results users want, more than traditional “web search,” which serves up a list of blue links.
Graph Search is only available as a limited beta for U.S. English-speaking users and will be rolling out slowly, the company said in an announcement posted online. Interested Facebook users can register to try it for themselves here (scroll to bottom).
“There are a few pillars of the Facebook ecosystem,” founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a video released Tuesday, playable on the Facebook Graph Search about page. “One is Newsfeed, right? It’s you show up and you can just see all the stuff that’s important that’s happening recently with your friends. Another pillar has been Timeline: Each person can share whatever they want with whomever they want on Facebook, and your timeline is your place where you can curate everything you want to show up about you. Graph Search is going to be another pillar that’s like that.”
Facebook’s director of product Blake Ross posted a status update on his Facebook page calling Graph Search “[d]efinitely one of the best things we’ve launched since I joined Facebook.”
Here’s another video ad released by Facebook introducing the new feature:
Specifically, Facebook Graph search works for finding content on the website in four broad categories — “people, photos, places and interests,” but can also combine information to get results across multiple categories.
Here are screenshots of the new Graph Search feature in action, released by Facebook on Tuesday. The screenshots show how the new feature works, appearing in place of the blue navigation bar at the top of every Facebook page:
When a user enters a generic query, such as “photos,” Facebook provides a number of suggestions for filtered results it can display, such as “Photos I Like” or “Photos of my family” or “Photos before” a certain time.
When a user selects one of the choices that Facebook presents, say “Photos of my friends before 1999,” Facebook automatically shows a gallery right on the results page, organizing the photos by several cues, such as the number of “Likes” and comments they each received.
Facebook Graph Search also presents different results options for different general queries, offering to serve up “Friends” by location, place of work, and likes, for examples — or “Places,” by Friends who visited and liked them.
Here is an example of a Graph Search results page for “people who like things I like”:
Finally, and most powerfully of all, Facebook Graph Search allows users to narrow their search very specifically across multiple variables at once, such as simultaneous searches of a first name, Friends of Friends and educational background, as seen in the following screenshot:
Facebook also released the following new video showing some of the privacy features of Graph Search.
At the time, Facebook’s product manager Samuel Lessin wrote in an announcement online:
Everyone used to have a setting called “Who can look up my timeline by name,” which controlled if someone could be found when other people typed their name into the Facebook search bar. The setting was very limited in scope, and didn’t prevent people from finding others in many other ways across the site.
Because of the limited nature of the setting, we removed it for people who weren’t using it, and have built new, contextual tools, along with education about how to use them. In the coming weeks, we’ll be retiring this setting for the small percentage of people who still have it.
It would seem that Facebook also retired this feature so Graph Search would work better.
For information that can’t be found on Facebook, such as current weather results and forecasts, Facebook’s Graph Search also links to Web results from Microsoft Bing, The Verge reported. Microsoft was an early investor in Facebook and Microsoft’s Bing Maps also “currently powers maps for the Facebook.com web experience, including maps that appear on a person’s Timeline and check-ins, as well as business pages,” a Microsoft spokesperson told TPM. That means that even some of the location-based search results that Facebook serves up will be tied to Bing Maps data. Microsoft Bing Maps also relies on data from Nokia.
It remains to be seen how Facebook Graph Search will integrate advertising, if not one of Facebook’s “pillars,” certainly core to its bottom-line. TPM has reached out to Facebook for more on Graph Search advertising and will update when we receive a response.