Facebook announces Graph Search, a new way to find people, photos, places and things on the social network

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By Brittany Darwell Comment

Facebook today announced Graph Search, a new way to search for people, places, photos and other things on Facebook.

Rather than indexing the web, Facebook has focused on making it easier to navigate and discover content within the social network. And instead of using keywords, users will combine phrases, such as “photos of me in 2006,” “my friends in San Francisco who like The Lord of the Rings” or “restaurants in New York liked by people who like Top Chef.” Search results will change dynamically as users type. Results are personalized to each user based on their friends, location, Likes and other connections. Users can further refine their query with filters to the right of the results.

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Facebook emphasized that Graph Search respects the privacy of each piece of content, so that users never see photos or other information they don’t have permission to see. For example, if a user in New York has hidden their current location from non-friends, they would not appear in a search for “people who live in New York.” On the other hand, if a user makes their current city and photos public, they might appear in a stranger’s search for “photos of people who live in New York.” Facebook says it will begin prompting users to “please take some time to review who can see your stuff.” Users can finely tune their privacy settings from their activity log, which the social network recently updated to be more intuitive and give users more control over what they share.

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Graph Search is rolling out in limited beta today. For now it is only available in English and exists on only on desktop. Graph Search has indexed people, places, photos and interests, but Facebook says it is working to add posts and Open Graph actions.

“It’s going to take years to really map everything thats out there,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a launch event at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.  “There’s more content that we don’t have than we have.”

For those queries that aren’t answerable by Graph Search, Facebook continues to partner with Bing to offer web search directly from the main search bar. Examples, Zuckerberg suggested are “Rihanna’s latest album” or “Menlo Park weather.” These facts aren’t yet available through Graph Search, so results from Bing will display instead.

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Here is a clip of Graph Search in action, as demoed at today’s press event.

Pages and apps can still use Sponsored Results, which appear to people whether or not they have Graph Search. No new ad units were announced today, and Sponsored Results have to be targeted based on a specific entity not search queries. So, for example, a movie page can bid to appear when users search for “Fight Club” but they cannot bid for the query “movies my friends like.”

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