Review: Searching for answers on Facebook

A first look at Facebook's new search tool, “graph search.”
BY BARBARA ORTUTAY Published: January 22, 2013
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Facebook unveiled a new search tool on last week that gives users a chance to sift through the photos, places and other information available on the site — all through the lens of their social connections.

Would you like to know which of your friends live in San Francisco? Are you curious about who likes Madonna? Or are you dying to know which friends appeared in photos with you before 2006? Facebook's new search tool will tell you, in the hopes that you'll spend more time on the world's largest online social network.

The search feature, called “graph search,” is being rolled out slowly. For now, users can only search in English and the service will be available only to a tiny fraction of Facebook's more than 1 billion users. As part of a group of reporters who attended Facebook's unveiling of the service Tuesday, I was one of these users.

I got a chance to try out the feature and sift through my friends' interests, photos and other data. While most searches revealed little information about my friends that I didn't already know, it was nice to see it indexed and categorized in a way that wasn't possible before. There have been countless times I've wished I could group my friends by where they live, or find people who've worked at a particular company.

Google, too, has tried to incorporate social features in its powerful search engine, but it doesn't have the breadth of personal data that Facebook has amassed. Even so, Facebook isn't the best place to search for home flu remedies or movie show times.

Facebook, meanwhile, should help unearth interesting details about my social network. It's through Facebook's search feature I that I was able to find a trove of adorable “photos of my friends before 1990,” or see which of my friends are fans of the savvy Seattle sex columnist Dan Savage.

Searching for photos is one of the most personal and interesting features of the new tool. There are 19 photos of me and my husband taken by my friends that my friends like, for example. There are “fewer than 100” photos of my family before 2008.

Rather than using keywords or various filters, Facebook's search tool aims to replicate the way people talk. It prompts users to “search for people, places and things” and will try to complete your sentences. It should get better over time as more people outside of Facebook's labs use it.



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