Facebook Graph Search: Search Just Got Personal

If you use Facebook, chances are you’ve written about what’s going on in your life, RSVP’ed for events, liked your favorite groups, posted photos, and more. You might have your education, employment, relationships, religion, and favorite quirky quotes listed for all the world to see. If you’ve tagged photos with location and people, you’ll have quite a clear record online of the people you spend time with and the places you’ve been. Or, you might just have a history full of spamming your friends for help growing carrots on your flourishing fake farm.

Either way, there’s a ton you can find out about yourself from your Facebook profile, data that’s sitting there ready to be mined. It used to take going to each of your friends’ profiles to find out this info, but with Facebook’s new Graph Search, it’s just a click away. We’ve just gotten access to it, so here’s a quick look at the newest iteration of the world’s most popular social network, and how it might affect the way you use it.

Goodbye, Last Facebook Design. We Hardly Knew You.

Facebook has a habit of changing their site’s design, often to the frustration of 1/6th of the world’s population that uses Facebook. Graph Search is no different; this one change actually changes Facebook’s design, though this time it only really affects the top header. What used to be a mostly static bar for seeing notifications and navigating the site – along with a search that always felt tacked-on at best – is now a bar almost entirely devoted to search. And not just any search, mind you: it’s a search powered by your friends, friends’ friends, and everything that you and them have put on Facebook.

Mega Search

Just for comparison, here’s the old Facebook search that we all know (though likely don’t love, since it wasn’t that useful):

Classic Facebook Search

Compare that to the new Facebook Graph search, which takes up the whole window and immediately suggests searches about you and your friends without you searching for anything:

The new widescreen search. Search HD, anyone?

The new search is based around your friends’ Graph data – the things they’ve liked, the places they’ve been, and the personal info that they’ve added to their profiles. It doesn’t search things your friends have written about, and is rather frustrating at searching through pictures since it apparently only searches the location names and people who have been tagged in the images, and nothing else. So, you can get some interesting info, say, about the restaurants that your friends who are married have liked. You could change this out, and have only the restaurants in Bangkok that your friends from Australia have liked, if you have well-traveled friends, or anything else you can think of. If it’s something that someone would either like or put on their Facebook profile, you can add it to the search query, and Facebook will get right to work finding the right things for you.


You can add extra info to your original search to drill down deeper into the data Facebook has unearthed, or use the extra search tools to refine your search. You’ll get the best results this way, since Facebook is showing you itself what it can find. Or, if you’re getting adventuresome, you can click Discover Something New, and Facebook will do one of its default searches to show you, perhaps, what games your friends have liked (which is how I just found out that 34 of my friends play FarmVille).

The Good and the Bad

Google searches the whole web. We’re used to that, and it makes sense. Facebook now searches everything that your friends have ever liked or tagged in Facebook, though, and it suddenly feels strange. If you put something public on the web, you expect to be able to search and find it, so now it would seem that we could expect the same in Facebook.

Only it’s not quite that simple. Say you like Facebook Graph Search and thought it’d be a great way to go through your friends’ old Instagram photos. Sounds simple enough, right? Then explain this:

When almost all of my friends use Instagram and share the pictures on Facebook, this is frustrating

Try as I might, I couldn’t get any search query to find photos added by Instagram. I could easily find friends who’ve used Facebook for iPhone, or who work at Envato, or how have been tagged in a photo with me. But I could only find pictures of mountains from one friend who’d tagged their pictures with a location name that said “mountain” in it. Plenty of friends have uploaded pictures of, say, cake, but Facebook couldn’t find any of them. It could find ones tagged at a particular bakery, though.

For all its promise, without searching the actual words we type into Facebook in our status updates and photo labels, the new search fails to be useful for most things you’d actually look for. Sure, it’s neat to find the movies that my friends 20-25 have liked, say, but there’s only so much that that’s useful for.

Worse, though, the new Facebook Graph search ends up being more creepy than anything, because the data that it can tie together is incredibly personal. Think: it might not be able to find pictures of birthday cake, but it does search everything you’ve liked, every place you’ve tagged in a picture or update, every thing about you that you’ve ever added to your profile (religion, relationship status, employer, education, and more). It doesn’t take a very vivid imagination to see how many people will be feeling that their privacy has been invaded by Facebook Graph Search, as a new blog Tumblr proves.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So is Facebook Graph Search interesting? Absolutely. Can it be useful? Of course, though not as much as we’d like since it’s only searching likes and tags. Is it a wake-up call that we should be careful what we share online if we don’t want others to put it all together? Yes, a million times over.

For more info about Facebook Graph search, or to go ahead and signup to be in the beta, check out Facebook’s Graph Search Page. In the mean time, you might want to peek at your own profile and make sure you’re ok with everything you’re sharing. If you don’t want it out there in public, you’d be best to not put it on Facebook. Even if you have everything set as private where only your friends can see it, Graph Search makes it awfully easy for them to search through what you have shared. Treat Facebook as a public blog, though, and you can’t go too wrong. Where most people mess up with Facebook is that they treat it like it’s private, when really it’s anything but private.

If you’re ok letting the world know where you ate out last night, and where you went to school, and where you went on vacation, then it’s fine to put that on Facebook. If you’ll feel sick that people found out that you played FarmVille because of Graph Search, then you’d better stay off of it. Treat it all as public, then set your privacy settings just to keep a small semblance of privacy if you want, and you’ll be fine.

Suddenly, I’m feeling like an old guy ranting about privacy, and I’m just 23.