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Hands on with Facebook Graph Search: Interesting, but disappointing

By Lex Friedman, PC World
January 23, 2013 02:05 PM ET

PC World - When I first heard about Facebook Graph Search, I expressed some doubts about how useful the feature would be for churning out practical results. Now that I have access to the feature, those doubts about whether most Facebook users will get much use out of it have only intensified.

To be fair, Graph Search remains in beta, and when announcing the service last week, Facebook indicated that a lot of fine tuning lies ahead. Still, Graph Search's heavy reliance on Likes may ultimately limit just how much information you can get out of your searches.

[ FIRST LOOK: Facebook's new Graph Search ]

How it works

You can sign up for early access to the beta, but keep in mind that Facebook is rolling this out slowly. Should you make Graph Search active for your account, it will replace much of the header bar on Facebook. You click on the "Search for people, places and things" text at the top, and start typing in your search terms. Facebook provides plenty of real-time suggestions as you do, though not quite as intuitively as popular search engines like Google and Bing.

That's not too surprising: Graph Search is a very different take on search than what you're probably used to. It's not about keywords or any of the kinds of searches you'd typically perform. Rather, Graph Search focuses on token-based searches: Facebook recognizes key words in your search, and looks for data it has collected that matches what you're looking for.

That's easier to explain with a series of examples. When I type my friends into Graph Search, Facebook offers up a bunch of suggestions: Friends of my friends, Friends of my friends who live in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania (my hometown, though not where I live now), Friends of my friends who work at Macworld, Friends of me and my friends, and Friends of my friends from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. (Yes, those suggestions are ever so slight variations on one another--almost to the point of annoyance.) I can click or use the keyboard to select any of those, use my original search, or customize my own search further.

Suppose I choose Friends of my friends who live in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania--perhaps because I want to find old high school buddies I haven't reconnected with on Facebook yet. I get a list of results, which I can instead choose to view in a grid layout. What I don't get, but could be hugely useful for this type of search, is an option to sort results, perhaps starting with people with whom I have the most friends in common first. Another bizarre omission: I can't find an obvious way to exclude my own friends from results. When I'm searching for friends of my friends, it's a little silly (and recursive) when Facebook includes people I'm already friends with in my results.

I can refine the search in all sorts of ways that range from creepy to clever--gender, relationship status, current location, hometown, year of graduation, and plenty more.

But let's move beyond searching just for new friends.

Data-driven suggestions and results

Facebook's suggestions when I type in Music my friends like include Music pages my friends like, Music places my friends like, Music liked by me my friends listen to, and Music my friends who like Unprofessional listen to. (Unprofessional is a podcast I co-host and have clicked to "Like" previously on Facebook--Likes figure heavily into Graph Search's results and options.)

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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