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Review: Searching for answers on Facebook

A first look at Facebook's new search tool, “graph search.”
BY BARBARA ORTUTAY Published: January 22, 2013

Graph search doesn't dig through people's status updates, only the likes and interests that they have listed on Facebook. But that could come later, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted at Tuesday's event. The tool also searches photos — who's in them, who's liked them and who posted them. EMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson predicts a “mass exodus” of untagging and unliking of photos and interests as Facebook rolls out the search feature more broadly and people realize that the things they liked 5 years ago are suddenly searchable by their friends and others.

To soothe privacy concerns that invariably arise with every new feature Facebook announces, Zuckerberg stressed that users will only be able to find information they have access to. This means no matter how many times you search for “photos of Mark Zuckerberg in diapers,” you won't find one unless Mr. Z has shared his hypothetical baby photos with you in the first place.

The search tool could take more than a year to roll out to all of Facebook's billion-plus users, and it'll surely see a lot of changes in that time. A shortcoming I already noticed is that few of my friends are the oversharing type. With notable exceptions, many of them don't “like” restaurants, don't share their location or disclose whether they are a fan of Lady Gaga. Graph search is probably more fun — and more useful — for people whose friends share a lot.

Though Yelp's stock price tumbled after Facebook announced its search tool, for now I don't see myself switching when I need to search for restaurants, especially since Facebook's search feature is not available on mobile devices. For one, I rarely search for places to eat using my computer. And there simply isn't enough information available on Facebook. A search for “restaurants in Brooklyn, New York” that my friends have liked and visited yielded just 16 results.