1. Wait, What The Heck Is Graph Search?
If "Graph Search" sounds like something you slept through in geometry class, breathe easy. It's just the name of Facebook's new search technology, which first launched in January and is now rolling out to all U.S. English users. It replaces the existing search function, which generally mimics most keyword-driven Web searches, with the ability to plug in detailed combinations of words and phrases that filter and sort results based on your profile, your friends' profiles and other data.
Facebook offers this example: "My friends in New York who like Jay-Z." (Other folks have tried more creative examples by way of pointing out some of the potential risks that come with Graph Search's level of detail.) While it's still an evolving feature, both the excitement and concern around Graph Search stem largely from the seemingly limitless number of ways you'll be able to search the Facebook data available to you, much of which is user-generated.
[ Will Graph Search help you find a job? Read Social Do's And Don'ts For Job Hunters.
"The ability to connect discrete pixels of data including likes and dislikes can paint a comprehensive mosaic of a user," said Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance, in an email interview. "This can be a great value to the user and at the same time be a significant concern."
2. Expect Some Privacy-Related Hiccups.
People tend to get in a tizzy each time Facebook makes a major change, especially one that involves so much user information. Graph Search won't be an exception. In fact, it's primed to raise a rash of privacy-related concerns as millions of people experience it in everyday use for the first time. Facebook is currently advising users that now would be a good time to recheck their privacy settings to ensure they're comfortable with how their information can and can't be shared -- because that information will now be easier to find in searches. A message that appeared for many users beginning Monday reads: "Tip: Graph Search is rolling out now, so it's getting easier for people to find photos and other things you've shared with them. To check who can see your stuff, just click." (The call-to-action pointed to the privacy settings icon in the top-right menu.)
"Graph Search is a great example of technical innovation heading [toward] a potential collision with user's expectations on the use and sharing of their data," Spiezle of OTA said. "Depending on a user's privacy settings, their information may be shared unknowingly with others including potential third parties and advertisers."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation called this a "problem of discoverability" back when Graph Search first rolled out in beta, noting that the enhanced ability to search and parse Facebook data may make it more difficult for users to strike a balance between openness with the people they actually want to connect with and privacy from the people or organizations that they don't want scanning their information.
"This feature has rolled everyone, by default, into a dating service ("Single females in San Francisco who like Radiohead") and a marketing database ("People under 25 who like Coca-Cola")," the EFF wrote at the time.
3. It's Not Really About You -- It's About Advertising.
In a touchy-feely social media sense, Graph Search is about helping people find stuff on Facebook, be it other people, photos, restaurant recommendations, you name it. In the bottom-line world occupied by Facebook executives and shareholders, it's about selling advertising -- provided Graph Search develops into an exceptional tool. Businesses should get ready for Graph Search and a subsequent ad platform now, according to Optify director of marketing Uri Bar-Joseph.