Facebook unveils social search tools for users

Social search screengrab The search tool can handle natural language queries

Related Stories

Facebook has announced a major addition to its social network - a smart search engine it has called graph search.

The feature allows users to make "natural" searches of content shared by their friends.

Search terms could include phrases such as "friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter".

Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg insisted it was not a web search, and therefore not a direct challenge to Google.

However, it was integrating Microsoft's Bing search engine for situations when graph search itself could not find answers.

Mr Zuckerberg said he "did not expect" people to start flocking to Facebook to do web search.

"That isn't the intent," he said. "But in the event you can't find what you're looking for, it's really nice to have this."

Finding folks

Earlier speculation had suggested that the world's biggest social network was about to make a long-anticipated foray into Google's search territory.

"We're not indexing the web," explained Mr Zuckerberg at an event at Facebook's headquarters in California.

"We're indexing our map of the graph - the graph is really big and its constantly changing."

In Facebook's terms, the social graph is the name given to the collective pool of information shared between friends that are connected via the site.

It includes things such as photos, status updates, location data as well as the things they have "liked".

Until now, Facebook's search had been highly criticised for being limited and ineffective.

Start Quote

It's going to help drive connections within the network between individuals and between companies and pages”

End Quote Mark Little Ovum

The company's revamped search was demonstrated to be significantly more powerful. In one demo, Facebook developer Tom Stocky showed a search for queries such as "friends of friends who are single in San Francisco".

The same technology could be used for recruitment, he suggested, using graph search to find people who fit criteria for certain jobs - as well as mutual connections.

Such queries are a key function of LinkedIn, the current dominant network for establishing professional connections.

"We look at Facebook as a big social database," said Mr Zuckerberg, adding that social search was Facebook's "third pillar" and stood beside the news feed and timeline as the foundational elements of the social network.

Perhaps mindful of privacy concerns highlighted by recent misfires on policies for its other services such as Instagram, Facebook stressed that it had put limits on the search system.

"On graph search, you can only see content that people have shared with you," developer Lars Rasmussen, who was previously the co-founder of Google Maps, told reporters.

Test case

Mark Little, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, said he was "underwhelmed" by the announcement.

Rory Cellan-Jones tries out Facebook's new search engine

"I think probably people were looking for something a little bit more strategic," he said, adding that graph search might well be a bridge to a more comprehensive search offering in the future.

"On the plus side I think it's going to help drive connections within the network between individuals and between companies and pages," he said. "If you are increasing connections between friends and pages you are effectively increasing the reach of advertisers."

In his demonstration, Mr Stocky showed how graph search could help any attempt to go back over old content that a user may want removed. For instance, it could let someone use search queries - such as pictures taken at a certain location, such as a night club - and untag them en masse.

Mr Zuckerberg said that graph search would launch immediately as a beta test, and would roll out "very slowly". The tool will be usable from the blue banner that sits at the top of every Facebook page.

"We're going to put an encouragement on the home screen of everyone's account so that everyone has the chance to look through these tools.

"We're going to do this before graph search is fully rolled out."

He added that external developers would eventually have access to the data in graph search - but access wasn't available yet.

"There's a very long list of things that we didn't do for version one. We have years and years of work ahead of us."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The option to narrow ordinary searches would be good. Many times I've tried to search for old school friends, but type in a name like 'John Taylor' and you get hundreds of people in the US before anyone in the UK. We need the options to narrow searches down. Thousands of results is not what we want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    An interesting test search phrase, "friends of friends who are single in San Francisco". I may share my details if I wish, but I have no authority to include other people in this, much less their friends who I don't know and have never met.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I like that old saying "Familiarity Breeds Contempt" and so stay off the network 99.999% of the time. I am NOT that interested in ANYONES hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly activities! If they are not in touch then I leave it at that and do not have any desire to 'track' them down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    It is all very well to add graph searching (whatever it is!). How about a half decent person search? As anyone who uses Facebooks knows, it is completely impossible to find friends who have a common name such as James Smith. There needs to be an option to search by location or school as well to narrow the search. This is babies stuff but they seem to have managed to miss something so basic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I do not understand peoples objections to this, they have improved upon a feature which need the improvement badly!


Comments 5 of 7


More Technology stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.