Facebook unveils social search tools for users

Social search screengrab The search tool can handle natural language queries

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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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Is it true that if Facebook even as much as botty burps, the beeb open up a comment section.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    but surely you know what your friends like already?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Facebook is fast turning into a nasty, nasty element of the Internet and it should be avoided at all costs

    Facebook is not a friend of the Internet or the people, it is the enemy.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    The Big Problem is...

    Facebook routinely tracks activity and sends out emails telling others what it thinks you've been doing.

    The problem with this is not just the invasion of privacy without explicit consent, Facebook also makes false claims about what people have been doing to lead so called friends off to third party content eg: an online shop.

    How low is Facebook going to get?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    One day soon, the Facebook bubble will burst and the whole ecosystem will collapse around Zucks ears.

    I would like to see the look on Zucks ugly face when that happens!

    On reflection, FB is better suited to socially inadequate virgins who are unable to effectively communicate with the Human Species by established protocols, i. e. "talking". De-Evolution in action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Stupid Facebook, I'm going back to MySpace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I closed my Facebook account a few months ago - now I see friends in real life and my mind is free once more. Like McCluhan said - the medium is the message - Facebook doesn't connect anyone it makes you a slave labourer for shareholders - it will go the way of MySpace by the end of the year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I recently gave up on FB personally. I now have just a business profile that I use to promote a site, a necessity (unfortunately).
    People are moving away from FB and going back to groups with shared interests, something FB has failed to provide. I'm happier being on interesting forums and groups sharing interests than I am reading pointless attention-seeking brain farts from various people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It took over 10 years for the great unwashed to get bored of Big Brother on TV every summer. Facebook is 8 so I have my fingers crossed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Has Facebook paid the BBC for this mention?

    It is about time the BBC came clean about it's relationship with Facebook, why does it promote it with such zeal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Just when so many of us are trying close things down and retain our privacy. Sounds a pretty useless app for most people - a solution looking for a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    marks shares are still falling, he needs to do something.

    @31 did you manage it ? come on update us.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • 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!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Facebook is just a data mining operation with a happy face on the front to make it look nice. Why pay people to do surveys about their personal lives when you can sucker them in by setting up a fun format so that they give you their personal information for free? Take the personal info in the front door, sell it out the back door. "Facebook" is really "Suckerbook"; just ask your "friends".

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    If you are so sad that you spend the majority of your social time communicating with/through a computer you need to literally get out more,have you heard a Facebook type person speak?Every sentence ends with that pathetic upward inflection that makes every statement sound like a question.Actually I hope these people stay in as they have no place in a half intelligent society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Im off down the pub to have a pint. and a chat with some real friends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Here's a better idea. Close your facebook account. Turn off your computer and go socialise face to face! I dont need someone or something to tell me what people to socialise with. What kind of manufactured society are we becoming!? I have nothing to do with all this, and i have plenty of friends who share my interests. However, did i do that without facebook?


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