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Graph Search, Shmaph Search: How Useful is Facebook’s New Feature, Anyway?

Facebook’s new Graph Search has set the Internet abuzz since it was unveiled this week, as business pundits and social media experts weigh in on what this could mean for the nature of online privacy, the company’s own monetization strategies as well as for the competition, notably Google. (Oddly enough, however, it may not exactly spell trouble for the search giant.)

On the ground, though, everyday users may be wondering what the announcement means to them. Will the new feature influence or aid their everyday activities? Or is it much ado about nothing, as yet another feature that elicits a lot of hype, but very little real-world value?

This could open up a wealth of uses for Graph Searchers, including:Let’s start at the top. The concept at the heart of Graph Search is a deceptively simple one: The company vaguely calls the beta feature a “new way for people to navigate connections,” but it’s basically a different way of searching for things. Instead of getting gigantic text lists with hyperlinks, the feature digs to dish up results from the people your network. This way, the people you know have already vetted the information before it comes to you. Sort of like personal endorsements.

Getting restaurant recommendations: Looking for the best pizza place in town? The freshest sushi, or tastiest gyro? Graph Search results are like getting dining recommendations from friends, as entries based on their likes pop up.

Finding friends with shared interests: If you need a squash partner who lives near you, an avid surfer or snowboarder to buddy with on that vacation, or a fellow gearhead to hit the auto shows with, your options could be limited. Sure, you could call everyone in your address book one by one, hoping to talk someone into it, but there’s nothing like discovering a friend or coworker who already shares your passion. Speaking of passion…

Getting dates: Locating someone you have something in common with could be as easy as typing “Single men/women nearby who like iPhone/Android.”

Starting an online book club, knitting circle, foodie collective, gaming group, etc…: Graph Search could also bring friends together who are reading Proof of Heaven or The Racketeer, or are addicted to DC Universe Online. And for some recommendations on titles, why not look to local friends, family abroad or other segments (like fellow graduates of your college or only people in tech professions)?

Searching archives: A simple search of “Photos of friends before 1999” can deliver a wealth of old photos from childhood. Likewise, you can compile family photos for Nana, or make your own travel guide by searching “Photos of friends from Paris, France.”

Graph Search trumps Boolean search strings, as it understands natural language, and that should make it easy for non-techheads to find what they’re looking for — from spicy food (Restaurants in San Francisco Liked by people from India) and dates with gamers (Single men/women nearby who Like Halo 4) to clubhopping pals (My friends nearby who Like dancing). You can even let your freak flag fly (My friends’ moms who Like Fifty Shades of Grey). Whatever the case, your next adventure — or punch in the face — could be just a Graph Search away.

Well, at least, in theory. There’s only one problem: The results are rather limited. The reasons why range from dearth of relevant data from early Graph Search users, to search string issues. On occasion, the algorithm hiccups on terms that are a little too specific. (Apparently “running shoes liked by people who have run marathons” doesn’t yield much usefulness.)

So it’s not quite a Google-Yelp-OkCupid-LinkedIn killer yet. But, in terms of utility, it’s not half bad, especially considering that it’s a beta feature. As such, it needs users to hop on board to reveal all the bugs in order for it to advance. And Facebook is hopeful that it will. In the future, the company plans to index and add all the shared content and links that goes through its pipes, as well as events and activities from Instagram and other apps, to try and turn Graph Search’s crawl into a mad dash to glory. Whether it will get there or not remains to be seen, but it’s off to an interesting start.

Have you checked out Graph Search yet? If not, you can do so by hitting up facebook.com/graphsearch and signing up for the beta test. If you have, let us know what your impressions are down there in the comments.


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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