Facebook Graph Search addresses several categories of search — some that were made explicit during Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday and others that are still being discovered as beta users try it out.
Navigation around Facebook, people discovery and recommendations for places and entertainment are valuable features the company has already highlighted. One of the less obvious realms is research.
We’ve talked about how businesses can use Graph Search to uncover consumer insights and how public figures can use it to better understand their followers, but there are other interesting applications for students, researchers, journalists and everyday users.
Facebook’s combination of identity and structured data allow users to answer very specific questions that no other service can. Although Graph Search uses natural language processing to understand what users are actually looking for rather than simply matching keywords, one might get a better sense of what’s possible with the tool by thinking about the following formula:
Type of Content + Subject + Type of Person + Location + Time
Users can combine any of those options in a query. For example, a user could look for “photos of concerts taken by people under 30 in the U.S. in 2012.” Now, this specific search turns up only eight results, but those eight results perfectly match the query. On the other hand, a Google Image Search for “U.S. concerts” with a date range between Jan. 1, 2012 and Dec. 31, 2012 returns 30 pages of results, many of which are not photos of concerts, and there is no way to know how old the person who uploaded them was or even if they’re in the U.S.
As users and pages share more on Facebook, especially if they do so publicly and include captions and locations, the social network will be able to offer more results for more types of queries. But what’s less important now than the number of results is the fact that these searches are possible at all.
Here are other examples of how people are able to see the world through different lenses using Graph Search:
As Facebook indexes more types of content like status updates, events and Open Graph actions — only photos, videos, people, apps and interests are included now — the range of information and level of granularity for Graph Search will be even more powerful.
Kids can look back and see how their city looked before they were born, journalists can read what a specific demographic is saying about an issue, people can compare their way of life to people their age in other countries, researchers can find trends in how people talk about their spouses depending on how old they are or how long they’ve been married, and much more.
These type of queries don’t simply replace the searches that are being conducted through other services and search engines, they add a whole new class of information and understanding that will become possible.