Facebook Graph Search, the reality

Jan. 16, 2013 | by Richard James

Facebook Graph Search was announced yesterday and I made some guesses as to how this product would look. I was on the ball with some things – Facebook are concentrating on subjective searches – but less so on others – they will keep using Bing to power the results for some queries.

So is all the fuss around Graph Search warranted?

What does Graph Search look like?

Graph Search is (currently) pretty limited. All it allows you to do is search the open graph. So what does this mean in practise?

Graph search allows you to mine Facebook’s data to find out things like:

  • “my friends who like trail running”
  • “friends who work at my company and like to ski”
  • “photos of my friends before 1995”

So how useful is this? Well as far as I can see, not massively.

Let’s take the query “friends who work at my company and like to ski”. If you work with someone and are friends with them to the extent that you would be willing to go skiing with them, then it is likely that you already know they like to ski. I mean, what do you talk about at work?

And what about the query “photos of my friends before 1995”. I can see this being funny for a few minutes.

Where have I seen this kind of search before?

You have seen this kind of search before, though likely not taking the same form.

“my friends who live in London”

“my friends who live in London who like dancing”

“my friends who live in London who like dancing and are single”

This is a lot like faceted navigation, a way of filtering results until you have a more specific subset. It usually looks something like this:

Superdry hoodies

Granted, Facebook have parcelled it up in a way that looks pretty clever, but it is the same basic idea.

And another thing…

A lot of the functionality offered by Graph Search assumes that people keep their lives documented on Facebook. This is probably how Facebook employees use their platform. But I doubt this is how the vast majority of their 1 billion users use it.

I like Calvados, the delicious apple brandy from France. It’s probably my favourite drink. Have I liked it on Facebook? No. Would I be interested in going to a Calvados tasting night with someone? Yes. But unless I think about all the stuff I may like to do given the chance and ensure that I have the relevant stuff liked on Facebook, how is this going to happen?

I also like Snowboarding, but only go once every 2 or so years. Do I have this as a like on Facebook? No.  Have I checked in anywhere on a mountain resort? No. Data roaming charges are too darn expensive!

What about 80’s Wrestling legend, Brett “the Hitman” Hart. Do I actually like this guy? No. Have I liked him on Facebook? Yes. Why? Because I thought it was funny when I liked him about 5 years ago.

And this is the issue. Most Facebook users are not going to tightly curate what they like. This will make Graph Search messy. Facebook is trying to add precise rules of filtering to what will be a messy index of people liking random stuff.

Am I being a bit harsh?

Possibly. There do look to be some useful aspects to Graph search. If I am visiting a city then I can see all of my friends who live there. Maybe there are some people I would like to see but don’t know very well.

There is also scope for Facebook to infer what people like from their activities. If I check into church every Sunday then Facebook could infer from this that I like God. If I check into my local pub every night then Facebook could infer I like drinking.

Could it be even smarter than this? If I check into a pub every Tuesday at 8pm and that particular pub’s Facebook page advertises that they run a pub quiz at that time, could Facebook work out that I like pub quizzes?

If Facebook can get to this level then things will start to get interesting.

But until then I think Graph Search is a slightly blunt solution, and it only looks good because the current way of searching Facebook is so bad.

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    Comments (2)

    • Coderra

      I think it is pretty limited but it is a start. Facebook have a huge ammount of data which it is only just learning how to manage. For businesses on Facebook it will eventually allow huge marketing opportunities to targeted markets. The problem I see though is that this graph shows only 'friends' / 'followers' so you would need a substantial ammount of those to make any real difference. Having a targeted segment of 10 people is pretty lame, and sadly, for smaller businesses with smaller numbers of followers this then is pretty useless.Feb 15, 2013 05:42 pm

    • Dudibob

      Can't see Facebook Graph Search really taking off as for the two reasons you said, 1. You (should) already know these facts from a friend 2. It's basically just a semi-smart filter. All those people that don't 'like' anything will rarely appear in these searches, like me hurrah!Jan 23, 2013 10:35 am

     
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