- Facebook unveils new search engine
- What Facebook Graph Search means for your privacy
- Analysis: Facebook search escalates battle with Google
If you use it regularly, Facebook has a gigantic amount of data on you.
Much of this data is automatically collected — the friends you talk to the most, what you listen to on Spotify, where you check in — but even more of it is voluntarily submitted. Your employment history, the largest photo collection in history, what school you went to, what bands you pretend to like — a whole lot of this stuff we put in ourselves.
Well, most of us do.
While this data (they call it your "social graph") has always been there for us to look at, it has always been kind of hard to access. You would have to stalk through your friend's profiles to find what they are into. Advertisers were the ones who could use this data, asking to show an ad to only "18-24-year-old males who like video games" for example. With the Sigur Ros-scored Graph Search, Facebook is attempting to give this power back to the users.
The idea is we all have access to this "graph", but there's no easy way for us to organise it. Graph Search gives us a way. I can type "friends who like Coldplay" and reconsider our friendship, or "photos of me and my friends in 2009" and regret my life choices.
Organisation of data has always been an interesting issue for the internet to tackle. The internet is the largest collection of data in history — but Google is how we "organise it". Google are pretty great at this, but their search tools are best at publicly available generic data. Sure, they are attempting to make their results more social, and they skew their results by taking into account your location and other things you have clicked in the past — but if you typed "movies my friends like" into Google, it would have no idea what you wanted. If you typed in "what time is Skyfall showing" Google can help, but the more social stuff is an issue for them. Facebook has a lot of this data, and therefore a chance to beat Google at something they haven't properly tried yet.
Attempting to beat Google at plain old web search is impossible. Not only is it widely known, it is also much better than the competition, it is also near ubiquitous — on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Android phones and iPhones. Facebook aren't attempting such an impossible task, but if you DO type something that they can't understand in their new search, it defaults to a Bing search. That Facebook/Microsoft partnership looks more useful every month.
Facebook has a few issues with widespread success of this search. Most Facebook users are somewhat passive — they go on to check their notifications and messages, maybe see or upload some photos, rather than to actively search for something; that's what Google is for. This passivity extends to the amount of data we put on there: most of us keep our jobs on there, but I don't exactly update the books/movies/music section regularly. Spotify feeds in this music data, but they need to build in some other apps — Goodreads and Last.FM specifically. We all tag our photos pretty well, but we still don't quite organise all our data in a way a computer can understand.
Then of course, you have the creepy factor. Zuckerberg dropped an interesting tidbit during the announcement: currently 10 per cent of their entire processing power is spent on privacy checks. Graph Search doesn't let us see any data we couldn't before, but it makes it a whole lot easier. Like Timeline before it, Graph Search makes it much easier to travel back in time and see embarrassing content from our younger days. "Pictures of my friends in 2009" is a pretty terrifying concept. Plus, just look at what journalists can mine now. The sheer power of organising all this data easily is both impressive and slightly creepy — we will see how it plays out in the press.
Are you excited for Graph Search, or is it just another way for Facebook to invade our privacy?
Henry Cooke is a 20-year-old student/nerd who lives and breathes the internet — which he believes is mankind's crowning achievement. He blogs about the trends and technologies of the net, translating the babble and buzzwords so they make sense to regular folk. Email Henry or follow him on Twitter.