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 64.

    Can they manage to develop a search engine that finds comments that aren't largely vacuous, self centred / absorbed, regurgitated from elsewhere or just generally unengaging.Ref 'The Times' newspaper, 'facebook is little more than a giant scrap book of trivia' And foistered upon the the world by a geek looking for a girl and goldman sucks bank. Gullible investors to read the emperors new clothes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    It is quite right that the BBC should mention this in their Technology section, it's relevant to the way in which one of the big players in Social Media is going, and relevant to how social media uses the information that the end users give them for free to use to make money from.

    It's not an advert for Facebook. If you read between the lines it's a warning about how to be careful on the internet

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    If I do indeed find friends who like both Star Wars and Harry Potter.....how easy is it to block them from ever contacting me again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @30. Laurent Williams
    Are you using a different Facebook? Try name, town, workplace etc.

    However, the ability to search for people with similar interests could prove very useful for students studying a subject, or very disturbing for others.
    Noting stays the same, so I am sure that people who have facebook will live with it and use it despite anything said here.

  • Comment number 60.

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

  • Comment number 59.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    This guy is just out of control. His talk doesn't match his actions regarding privacy. Don't kid yourself... Face-crook is clearly a data mining operation and anyone who doesn't see that is...well...blind. Delete your account and in the future, you'll likely see your photos, comments and friend list show up on some other site. There may even be identity theft for sale happening as of now. Wake up!

  • Comment number 57.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I mainly use facebook, twitter etc as a way to follow other photographers who have a shared interest with me. Having all my friends, neighbours, colleagues etc on facebook has never really appealed that much, as if I want to speak to them I can just speak to them when I next see them. As for privacy my motto is "if it's private then DON'T put it on the web" and that INCLUDES facebook

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    @dave. Right Dave time to switch to dayhaps.com. When you sign up click on browes and see what and who you realy can follow. Even you family and friend who added an public agenda are easy to follow. And you can share whatever you want. No cars and bikes ofcourse. Facebook is gettng to much advertising and when you don,t watch out the sell your face to a book or even meaby to who knows. :-))

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    This was deemed more important than tackling the problem with harassment? Or skewed feed? Or being steered?

    I've just deleted everything from FB, there are so many things wrong with it that I've lost patience.

    The only thing I'll use it for now is a free way of messaging old mates without having to store phone numbers etc.

    Their lack of action on harassment is disgraceful, pathetic in fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    "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."

    And there's the catch...they're not doing it for us, but for the vulture corporations hoping to monetise the users...

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @16. Peter Hodge

    Facebook can 'impose' whatever they want on you. You choose to use Facebook. You're not the customer, you're the product. Everything Facebook does is geared towards making money for their real customers (and themselves) and making you smile whilst it happens.

    However, this doesn't make social networks evil. Just don't be so naive about how they operate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I am on Facebook and it is a good tool to have. But it is becoming very advert driven and more and more intrusive, at some point users will have to have the ability to fully control content and also switch off the advert bombardment which is really annoying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    @Lin Chong,

    or just talk dribble on BBC Comments board ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Whats there to follow? I use Dayhaps.com now for two weeks they just started. A bit puzzling to the site but after a while its so easy to use together with all your friends and colleges You can even follow your favorite soccer or football team in your agenda. If some game or whatever changes or being canceled, it changes also in your own agenda.
    That's what i call , follow people and events

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I went out with some mates for a pint the other day, not a social website in sight.
    Wanna know how we did it? Log on for details of 'how to have mates in the real world.com'
    Otherwise keep getting overexcited every time facebook comes up with a new way to post that stupid picture of your boring day and hope enough people are going to go 'oh yes, like' for you not to look too sad

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Laurent Williams

    Did you read up on what Graph Search is ?? What you explained is what the new service provides

  • 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 45.

    Why would I want my silly friends who have been knowhere in the world tell me about good food when they eat at greggs ? Getting answers from the masses is that it's often the most correct thats why I use google. bing is going to bring this info up, so why even bother with signing into facebook ?.Stupid Idea no wonder stocks are tumbling!


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