Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a Facebook Phone? No! It’s the Facebook Graph Search!

The much anticipated Facebook event called by Zuckerberg was not to announce the arrival of the much awaited Facebook Phone, but to unveil a new Facebook search function called Graph Search. With this new search function – dubbed as the 'third pillar of Facebook' by Zuckerberg – the social networking site promises to help you discover human connections in your social sphere, tailored to suit your needs.

Picture this, you’re leaving for a night out in town and want to go sing at a karaoke bar. You simple search ‘Friends who like singing’ on Facebook’s Graph Search beta and bam! You get a list of all your friends who you can invite over to sing a duet with you. Of course, you would want to know in greater detail how this search works and, of course, about how Facebook has addressed the dreaded 'P' word – privacy – with this search function. Read on for a clear picture.

Search for friends' interests

Search for friends' interests

What is Graph Search and how is it of any use to me?
According to Facebook, Graph Search is a new way for you to find people, photos, places and interests that are most relevant to you on Facebook. The feature will help you find people with similar interests, explore photos, find restaurants close to where you are and friends who stay in a city you’re visiting. Essentially, you can search for people, places, photos and interests.

Okay, so how do I use Facebook Graph Search?
Say, you’re looking for photos of friends in New Delhi. You start typing in the top blue bar and Facebook intuitively starts suggesting results you could be interested in. Facebook might suggest photos of you and your siblings, photos of a particular friend or photos of you this year. Once you have found photos your friends have taken in New Delhi, you can fine tune the results using the tool bar in the right of the search box. You could search for photos of your friends in New Delhi taken last year, or photos of a particular friend.

Once you have set out to search for places, photos or interests, you can use Facebook Graph Search to get specific replies by using permutations and combinations of key words. If you’d like to connect with people in your city who share similar interests as you, all you need to do is type in ‘People in Mumbai who like Star Wars’ to get results.

Images from friends pop-up in a neat style

Images from friends pop-up in a neat style

That’s interesting. How does Facebook Graph Search work?
Facebook has a wealth of knowledge thanks to all the information you share with it. With the details in the info page, Facebook knows where you work, what your relationship status is, when were you born and more information of the sort. It also knows you visited that particular Chinese restaurant last week, because you checked in to the place. It knows that your display picture with your brother was taken in the summer of 1992 in London, because you added these details to the picture when Facebook prompted you to.

When a friend of yours is out trying to find a new place to have lunch at, he will type in ‘Restaurants my friends have been to' and your check-in at the above mentioned Chinese restaurant will be pulled up by Facebook. Your friend might like the look of the place and decide to go dine there because you did too.

Hold on. What about my existing privacy settings? I don’t want my boss to see my New Year party pictures!
Facebook has that covered. The social networking site says that your privacy choice determines what is searchable. Your current privacy settings will stand as they are. So, if your album privacy settings do not allow your boss to see the New Year party pictures, if he types in ‘New Year pictures of my friends', your images will not turn up in his results. On the other hand, if your best friend searches for the same, your pictures will be indexed in his results.

The bottom-line is that your search results will be customised to not just tailor your needs, but also reflect privacy settings set on your profile. Of course, if all your data is public, results relating to you will pop up even if a stranger searches for an interest you have in common.

Is Graph Search like a web search engine?
Not quite. While a web search throws up links from all around the web, Graph Search will only show results that have some connection to you. Also, Graph Search allows you to do natural language searching (essential search using common phrases like 'who are my friends who like Batman movies') unlike the keyword searching by web search engines like Google. As Zuckerberg said while demonstrating the product yesterday, while web search is designed to take any open-ended query and give you links that might have answers, Graph Search gives you the answers. You search for ‘top ten movies of 2012’ in a search engine, but on Graph Search you can simple search for movies your friends like last year and get a more personalised answer.

Zuckerberg also said queries that Graph Search cannot handle will be sent off to Bing to answer. Facebook chose Bing over Google because of privacy issues.

Nice! So, can I search for anything at all?
No, not really. Since Graph Search is still in beta mode, it may not throw up results for all your queries.

I’m sold. How do I get Graph Search?
If you’re not amongst the lucky few who already have Graph Search, you can sign up for the waiting list over here.

Facebook Places embedded

Facebook Places embedded

Some of these searches (most of them, actually) might seem a little silly and you’d like to try out the tool just for laughs. But these searches can prove pretty helpful. For business owners on Facebook, this could be a treasure trove by reaching out to more fans and potential customers with having their company show up in results eventually.

As of now only About, Photos, Places and Interests are indexed by Facebook, but it also plans to take in Instagram results as well as posts and links we share into Graph Search. Facebook’s attempt at doing something new is laudable, although we did hope the Facebook mobile figured into their scheme of things. Ah, well!

To know more about the Graph Search, head over to Facebook’s Graph Search page.

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