Facebook's Graph Could Be OkCupid, Yelp, and LinkedIn, All in One

Facebook unveils a powerful new search tool that will put the wisdom of your friends at your fingertips.

Screenshot-PeopleWhoLikeThingsILike copy.jpg

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Perhaps you've posted on Facebook something like this: "Anyone have any good book recommendations?" Or maybe you've said, "Hey, I'm looking for a good primary care physician, anyone know of one?" Or, "I'm going to London!!! Hit me up with your recommendations."

I've seen hundreds of these posts, and the reason is that, even with all the power of Google, there are just some things that your friends know better. They know your tastes, your budget, and they might have experiences that are similar to your own. And, if they use Facebook a lot, they might have at some point "liked" a book they read, recommended a doctor, or checked in at a pub in London. That data is there, but without a search tool, it was hard to access. That's why people posted these queries, hoping people would see them and respond.

Today, Facebook unveiled a new search tool they are calling Graph, and with Graph, they are hoping they can make much better use of all that data people have been leaving on Facebook for years. At a demonstration at Facebook's headquarters, Facebookers showed off just what this new tool can do, answering queries ranging from the simple to the complex, all falling under the four categories of "people, photos, places, and interests." (These are culled from the tweets and liveblogs of people at the event, with particular debt to The Verge).

  • Movies my friends like -- which pulls up, as you would expect, movies your friends have liked, but gives it some nice contextual information showing additionally other similar movies
  • Photos of my friends in 2009
  • Friends who live in Palo Alto who like Game of Thrones
  • "People named Chris who are friends of Lars and went to Stanford." (Perfect for finding someone you recently met through another friend)
  • Friends of friends who are single men in San Francisco
  • NASA Ames employees who are friends of Facebook employees (Powerful for corporate recruiters)
  • Photos of my friends taken in national parks
  • Photos of my friends before 1990
  • TV shows liked by doctors, engineers, etc.
  • Music liked by people who like Mitt Romney (for the curious: Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Nickelback, and Pink Floyd, whereas music liked by people who like Obama gets you Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Adele, and Madonna)
  • Languages my friends speak. Similarly: Friends who speak Arabic -- useful if you need a quick translation of something.
  • Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Adele, Madonna
  • Dentists liked by my friends
  • Restaurants liked by my Indian friends
  • Restaurants in San Francisco liked by Culinary Institute of America graduates
  • Bars in Dublin liked by people who live in Dublin
  • Countries my friends have visited
  • Photos of Berlin, Germany, in 1989.

Pretty freaking useful, no? And, lest you ever search for anything not supplied in the annals of Facebook, Facebook will provide Bing's search results. As Farhad Manjoo tweeted, "Oh man. This is huge for Bing. And bad for Google."

The privacy concerns for a tool like this are huge, and Facebook knows that. Graph will not ever show someone information that was not already available to them, through the sharing of a friend or because someone else had shared it publicly. So in that regard, Graph respects the privacy intentions of its users. But many people rely (foolishly, as Graph shows) on their Facebook past languishing in the depths of their timelines with no way to see it besides endless scrolling. Graph ends that luxury, and some people may respond by tightening up their privacy settings, though Facebook has recently upgraded its privacy controls to make doing so much easier.

During the presentation, Zuckerberg repeatedly emphasized that Graph is a beta roll-out for now, and it will become available to users bit by bit over the next few weeks and months. At the moment the product is not monetized -- no ads -- but the draw for advertisers is obvious and monetization cannot be too far off.

The queries people post to Facebook searching for book, pub, and doctor recommendations are evidence that the demand is there for a service like this. But whether Graph succeeds or stumbles, as Google's attempt to answer that demand did, lies in the execution. For Google+ the problem was getting the data. Facebook has the data, it just hasn't had a way for its users to access it. If Graph is easy to use and finds the information you want, Facebook will have just provided a powerful matchmaking, recruiting, and restaurant-recommending tool all in one -- exactly what Google tried to do with plus, this time with the actual warm human bodies to supply the answers it demands.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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