Taking on Google: The new Facebook search tool

graph search pic (1)Looking for a restaurant recommendation, a new track to listen to or a film you might like? Then Facebook’s new service is targeted at you.

The social media giant has just announced at an event in California that it has given its search service a major overhaul so that users can search for information and images posted not only by their friends but by other Facebook members.

Called Graph Search, the new facility means Facebook users can search photos, people, connections, music and restaurants their friends like.

And while Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has said it categorically isn’t a web search, the new system could take some traffic away from Google, or certainly from Google+, as a way to look through recommendations.

Graph Search uses what Facebook is calling intelligent interpretation to find friends by interest. For example, if you’re planning at a night at the cinema, you could search for friends who like the same type of movies as you do.

Graph search privacyGiving a simple example of “Who are my friends in San Francisco?” which then returned a list of friends, with Zuckerberg’s sister at the top, he went on to describe how he had invited friends to a recent gathering based on the search: “Who are my friends in Palo Alto who like Game of Thrones.”

Tom Stocky, a senior member of Google’s engineering team, suggested Graph Search could be particularly useful for people looking for a date. A search for “male friends of friends who are single and who live in San Francisco and are Indian” would return a list of potential dates for a female friend from India who was new in town, he explained.

Making the announcement at a special event at Facebook’s headquarters, the firm addressed inevitable privacy concerns over Graph Search, saying they had built it “from the start with privacy in mind and it respects the privacy and audience of each piece of content on Facebook. It makes finding new things much easier but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook.”Graph search image

Online rumours running up to Facebook’s announcement had suggested everything from a new smartphone to Skype-like internet telephone service was about to be revealed, so the new search gizmo came as a bit of a surprise.

Zuckerberg revealed Graph Search has been in development for more than a year, during which time it had proved to be a “really hard” technical challenge for his engineers.

Graph search“I thought it couldn’t be done,” he added. “This is just some really neat stuff. This is one of the coolest things we’ve done in a while.”

In a statement, Facebook said: “Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. The main way we do this is by giving people the tools to map out their relationships with the people and things they care about.

“We call this map the graph. It’s big and constantly expanding with new people, content and connections. There are already more than a billion people, more than 240 billion photos and more than a trillion connections.”