Facebook has launched what CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls Facebook's "third pillar", after Timeline and News Feed; Facebook Graph Search.

The tool, a search engine really, indexes all the information on Facebook, from photos posted to things liked. It filters that information down to that which is shared with you (by the people you have on Facebook) or is made public (by people posting things as "public").

You can then search through that information so that instead of browsing through all your Friends' Likes to find out who, for example, likes The Good Wife, you can simply search for it.

What Is Facebook Graph Search?

Essentially? At the moment? "Just" a way to search Facebook.

Potentially? Later on? As the tool is programmed to index more and more things on Facebook, eventually even the things we like on other web sites, Facebook Graph Search can start to answer searches we now do on Google and Bing. For now that's pretty far down the road still — and a big if.

What Does Facebook Graph Search Index?

It is indexing the Facebook Graph (things on Facebook) and for now works in only 4 categories:

  1. People
  2. Places
  3. Photos
  4. Interests

It will expand over time to include all content categories including posts, shared links, and application activity.

Facebook Graph Search is a multi-year, long term project, Mark Zuckerberg emphasized, to be built out slowly.

How Do I Get Facebook Graph Search?

You can sign up here for what Facebook calls "a very limited beta program for English (US) audiences".

How Do I Use Facebook Graph Search?

Ask questions the way you might formulate them to friends. That is; in natural language. (See also: Why Facebook Bought A Semantic Search Engine)

For example, "friends in Canada who like coffee".

Facebook Graph Search Examples

To get a better feel for what the tool is and isn't, here are some examples of what Facebook Graph Search can do.

  • An example from Mark Zuckerberg: "I want to invite friends over for Game of Thrones but who among my friends likes Games of Thrones? Graph Search tells me."
  • Tom Stocky, Director of Product Management at Facebook, ex-Google:
    • "TV shows most liked by doctors" (Grey's Anatomy, House, The Doctors)
    • "TV shows most liked by software engineers" (Big Bang Theory)
  • "TV shows liked by my friends who are Programmers"
    facebook-graph-search-example-tv-liked
  • "photos of my friends taken in national parks"
  • "photos of my friends taken before 1991"
  • "photos of my friends and me"
    facebook-graph-search-example-photos
  • Lars Rasmussen, software engineer at Facebook, ex-Google (invented Google Maps, Google Wave): 
    • "restaurants liked by my friends from India",
    • "Indian restaurants liked by my friends from India",
    • "restaurants in San Francisco liked by Culinary Institute of America graduates"
  • "music liked by people who like music I like"
    facebook-graph-search-example-music

Does Facebook Graph Search Replace Google?

No. At least not for now.

the tool
defaults
to results
from Bing when
there are
no results
While Mark Zuckerberg touts the tool as "designed to take a precise query and return to you the answer, not links to other places that might take you to the answer" it only indexes Facebook; not all the information on the World Wide Web. And as seen above, even iwhat it currently indexes on Facebook is limited to 4 categories there.

People may start to feel that the search on Facebook is their portal to the web though or that the search is "good enough": any time Facebook Graph Search draws a blank it defaults to results from Bing.

What Does Facebook Graph Search Compete With?

In its current inception it has much overlap with review sites as as Yelp. The type of information it can return through searches like "restaurants in Toronto liked by my friends" also has some overlap with Google Maps and Google+ Local or Google Places.

As it returns tons of information on your Friends, the tool is also somewhat of an address book on steroids.

Of course the other social graph out there is the one Google is building and pushing: Google+. While Facebook has a larger social graph with more interaction, Google's social graph can influence Google ranking. There's no question Google+ will succeed as a social layer for ranking signals for Google.

Facebook Graph Search & Privacy

Facebook's history on respecting users' previous privacy settings and intentions is bad. Default settings when introducing new features and tools frequently are as public as possible, no matter your previous settings. It's earned Facebook a #4 spot (up from #10 in 2011) on the 2012 Top 10 Most Hated Companies in America as compiled by 24/7 Wall St.

During the product launch Mark Zuckerberg stressed that the tool was "privacy aware" — but it's not clear what that actually means especially as previous products also were aware of privacy but didn't respect it.

Why Does Facebook Launch Facebook Graph Search?

With market penetration reaching saturation, and some markets showing contraction of active users, Facebook needs to make sure people keep investing time on the site by browsing the site, posting to it, liking things, etc.

By providing another way to use the information that's already there, Facebook helps keep users on the site instead of needing to go elsewhere.

Is There Money In Facebook Graph Search?

Potentially.

Indirect by keeping users on the site for longer times (see above) but some financial analysts also speculate on how Facebook could sell category suggestions or increase the number of clicks on advertisements shown.

Justin Post, analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, upped the Facebook shares price target by 4 dollar after saying "if Facebook can generate just one paid click per user per year, the company could add $500 [million] in annual revenue".

That said, shares for Facebook have shown an initial drop. The search tool isn't convincing investors.

Is There A Facebook Graph Search Tool API?

No, at the moment there is no API for the Facebook Graph Search engine.

There is an API for the Facebook Graph.

What Is The Facebook Graph The Search Tool Indexes?

A social graph is like a drawing circles or squares representing friends and things they do or like — and how they are connected.

The Facebook graph is such a map of how everybody and everything on Facebook is connected. It's like a huge family tree of people and things.

facebook-graph-simplified

The graph search tool indexes these connections and makes them searchable. This way you can (eventually) search for "friends that like coffee" or even "friends that like coffee and the beatles".

Previously to figure out whom of your friends Jane and John liked coffee you would have to visit their profiles one by one and scroll through their likes and interests.

How Does Facebook Graph Search Rank Information?

Facebook has two algorithms we know of that make sense of the graph on a per user  basis.

EdgeRank [1] is responsible for ranking (organizing, ordering, filtering) posts, status updates, interests etc.

Graph Rank does what EdgeRank does but for software and websites that use the Facebook Open Graph [2].

The per user ranking is than based on:

  • relationship: how strong is your actual relationship (i.e., level of interaction activity) with this person or thing?
  • importance: depending on what we're talking about. E.g., a status update is generally of more importance than a comment while a comment in a conversation you participate in might be equally or more important than a status update
  • time: the more recent, the better

By taking all these into account we can make a graph for John that uses weighted ranking.

facebook-edgerank

John really likes coffee (thick line) and there is recency. He liked the Beatles a bit longer ago but the connection is strong. But his interaction with Jane is so-so; their connection is getting weaker and more distant. The same applies to Jane's stated liking of tea.

If you would be friends only with Jane and John and would ask what hot drink your (two) friends prefer, the answer would be coffee.

Does This Mean I Need To Do Facebook Optimization Instead Of SEO?

No, that would be too early.

Google is dominant in search market share.

google-market-share-canada

Facebook has no share in search at the moment while the searches its new tool can answer are limited for now.

You should however continue to have a balanced social media presence at all times, regularly revisiting each channel to evaluate its reach and influence and your company's position in it.

How Can I Use Facebook Graph Search?

  • CRM: search for people within a company or for people with a specific role within companies ("all people working at Search Engine People Inc.", "IT managers at companies in Canada",)
  • Outreach: find people hot on an interest you're promoting ("all people in Canada who like coffee and organic", "journalists who like coffee")
  • Audience mapping: learn what the potential touch points are of your target audience ("TV shows liked by people who like iPad", "music liked by people in Toronto who like flowers")
  • Recommendations: what do people like ("books liked by people who liked First Things First", "movies liked by movie critics")
  • Relationship building: find what people like so you can tie into it ("restaurants liked by people working at Search Engine People Inc.", "movies liked by people working at The Guardian")

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Your 12 Step Social Strategy Blueprint For 2013

Notes:

  1. Facebook itself doesn't refer to EdgeRank as such but it's the name commonly assigned to it now
  2. Think of the Facebook Open Graph as the extended version of Facebook's own graph but for things outside of Facebook, like a web site you visit
Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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5 Responses to “What The Facebook Graph Search Engine Is, Does, How It Works, and How To Use It”

  1. Michelle Corsano says:

    Really really good and useful post!!!

  2. I think this is a great start to what could be a very powerful search tool for Facebook down the road. I have been saying for some time now they need to come up with a way to make all that user content indexable and searchable. This could be the revenue generating machine FB/shareholders have been looking for.

  3. I'll keep my fingers crossed on this one. Google has maintained a strangle hold on search for a very long time. Hopefully, Facebook can give them a run for their money. However, I don't see that happening any time soon unless Google makes a grievous mistake like Yahoo did when they insisted on paid inclusions (Which gave Google the opportunity to take over).

    • Ruud Hein says:

      Same here. I think the move Facebook made is calculated to stay out of the way of Google. Maybe later, much later… But now they want to show "we're not even doing your type of search!"