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Facebook Debuts Graph Search; Is Open Graph Protocol In The Picture?

By   /  January 15, 2013  /  No Comments

Photos your friends took in New York City. Restaurants in Chicago your friends have been to. People who like running and who live in Denver, Colorado. Friends of friends who are interested in ballroom dancing or hiking.

Facebook’s new Graph Search promises to find all those things, and more, for you. Mark Zuckerberg announced the new way to get really personal in your searches for people, photos, places and interests today at an event at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and the company has put up an explanatory page on the new service here.

While it doesn’t mention Open Graph specifically, the protocol that lets apps model a person’s activities based on actions and objects, it makes sense that the app-specific actions it lets people share on Facebook are feeding into the new search feature.

The built-in “Like” Open Graph action, for instance, could help with a Graph Search for bands my friends like.

In the video explaining the new feature on the Facebook page, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls Graph Search “another pillar” of the service, as News Feed and Timeline were before it. “Most people today don’t think about Facebook as a place to discover places where they could go eat or things they could do,” he says. “But with this product that’s just … it’s so natural to be able to do that.”

You’ll have to join the waiting list to use Graph Search for real (and you’ll have to be in the U.S. too, at least for now). It’s in limited beta starting today, but there is a Try option on the web site that, in my case, dished up people who live in San Francisco that’s based on information shared with me on Facebook. You’ll see different people than I would who live in the same city, based on what’s been shared with you.

Unlike web search, says engineering manager Kari Lee in the video, where we’d both get basically the same results if we were to search for “apple,” “on Facebook when you do the same searches we get completely different sets of results because of the depth of personalization we do.” Facebook, as explained by our fellow site Inside Facebook here, continues to partner with Bing to offer web search directly from the main search bar.

The new service, Facebook explains, is about leveraging the taste and recommendations of your real-world connections for the movies you might like or the dentist you’d be best off going to, of course. But it’s also about finding people that perhaps you should know – because of common interests or work – or finding the things that some of those people enjoy. A Facebook blog post reporting on the new effort notes that you can “conduct searches based on people’s connections to interests on Facebook. For example, you could conduct a search to find ‘books liked by journalists’ on Facebook. This will show a set of some of the commonly liked books by people who include journalist-related titles in their job description.”

In fact, the blog pointedly focuses on the new service’s particular attraction to the journalist community – that it provides a rolodex of 1 billion potential sources to journalists looking for them, down to people’s specific titles at companies, as well as more than 240 billion photos that can be a great tool during breaking news situations. Or, it adds, “journalists could use the interest-based searches to gain insights about trends. For example, you can do searches like ‘movies liked by people who are film directors’ or ‘books read by CEOs.’”

Privacy Please

Facebook, it seems, wants to make sure journalists really feel the love, because it’s also taking pains to point out that it’s not stepping on anyone’s privacy here. (There have been hues and cries from the journalism community about that before.)  Graph Search, it says, is built with the idea in mind that every piece of content on Facebook has its own audience based on privacy settings, and honors the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook.

Your privacy choices, that is, determine what is searchable. You can look up anything shared with you on Facebook, and others can find what you’ve shared with them, including content set to Public, it says. And it directs its audience to review their activity logs to make sure their privacy settings offer the control they want.

There will be more to come in the way of Graph Search’s capabilities, beyond people, photos, places and interests, Zuckerberg promises in the video. It’s a project, he says, for years and years to come. And as it grows more complete, it will be “an amazing resource for a lot of people in the world to use.”

Brittany Darwell at our sister publication, Inside Facebook, was at the Press Conference and shot this video of Graph Search in action:

About the author

Jennifer Zaino is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in business and technology journalism. She has been an executive editor at leading technology publications, including InformationWeek, where she spearheaded an award-winning news section, and Network Computing, where she helped develop online content strategies including review exclusives and analyst reports. Her freelance credentials include being a regular contributor of original content to The Semantic Web Blog; acting as a contributing writer to RFID Journal; and serving as executive editor at the Smart Architect Smart Enterprise Exchange group. Her work also has appeared in publications and on web sites including EdTech (K-12 and Higher Ed), Ingram Micro Channel Advisor, The CMO Site, and Federal Computer Week.

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