If you’re still looking for that friend of a friend who frequents your favorite coffee shop and shares your passion for all things Jedi, Facebook might have your match. Nearly six months after introducing Graph Search as a more natural, real-time search capability for social media, Facebook is taking the training wheels off and releasing the feature to all English-speaking users in the U.S. over the coming weeks.
The company says Graph Search is faster, easier to use, more accurate, and natural in its ability to answer questions than traditional search engines.
Tens of millions of users have used the product in its beta form since its splashy unveiling at the start of the year, providing feedback that helped the company improve what it considers to be the third pillar of the Facebook ecosystem. While Graph Search comes out of beta in the U.S. beginning today, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg made it clear from the outset that Graph Search will be an ongoing project and investment for the company for many years to come.
“Indexing all this content and making it so you can retrieve instantaneously is a really hard problem we’ve been working on for a while,” he said in January. “It’s going to take years to map out the graph and everything that’s out there.”
Facebook hasn’t revealed much about its plans for ads on Graph Search, but in April it began testing ads that use the same targeting techniques the site employs elsewhere. It is assumed that Facebook could eventually sell ads targeted to users’ search queries, thereby building a wildly opportunistic business around search ads tailored to real-time interests and activities.
Much of the reaction and eventual success of Graph Search will hinge on Facebook’s ability to cultivate social signals or other data on its users while harvesting recommendations that don’t fall flat on end users or advertisers. The company is also wrestling with challenges that have precluded it from bringing the product to mobile, a channel where most Facebook users already access the site today. Indeed, Graph Search sticks out like a sore thumb for the company as the product pushes ahead with no presence on mobile, but the company says it is “working on getting mobile Graph Search ready.”
Graph Search is still somewhat limited in scope, focusing on four primary activities or connections on Facebook - people, photos, places, and interests - but topics, posts, and comments will make their way into search results soon as well.
“Graph Search results are personalized and unique for everyone, based on what has been shared with them. For example, if you search for ‘Photos of San Francisco,’ you’ll see photos your friends took there and shared with you, as well as public photos. This means if someone else does the same search they’re going to see different results because they have different friends, and different photos have been shared with them,” the company notes in a blog post about the public rollout.
As Graph Search is made publicly available to users in the U.S., a notice will appear on their home page with a reminder about the controls they have over what and with whom they are sharing content.