Soon, everyone who skims through Facebook in US English will be able to find out who among their friends likes coffee and jazz.
Facebook announced on Monday that Graph Search will roll out over the next few weeks to everyone who signs in to the social network in American English. Graph Search began with a relatively small test group in January and has been rolling out since then to more users who signed up for the beta. Monday’s announcement means Facebook will pick up the pace to include all US English users in Graph Search.
Facebook says that Graph Search has become more relevant and comprehensive during the initial beta period, as well as faster.
If you haven’t had a chance to try the new feature yet, Graph Search is Facebook’s attempt to make it easier to find information about your friends and people around you. You could use Graph Search to find ‘people who live nearby and like cats’. As you begin typing your query, Facebook tries to help you by suggesting ways to fine-tune your search in real-time. My initial cat search, for example, was for people who live ‘near me’, but Facebook suggested I use ‘nearby’ instead.
Once you’ve done a search you can also refine it. For example, after searching for people who like cats, you can narrow those results down to show only people who like cats and are men, married and work for a specific company. The tools you can use to refine a search change depending on context. So when you are searching for photos, you may find options to specify a location where the photo was taken, who took the photos and if they include images of you. A search for companies could include options to show only businesses that employ your friends.
A distraction of dubious quality
Graph Search can be a fun way to spend the afternoon sifting through photos, likes and your friends’ tastes in music, but there’s some question about how useful the service actually is. There are some potentially useful searches such as ‘Restaurants nearby my friends like’ when you’re looking for something new. Likewise, finding friends or friends of friends that have traveled to Paris could come in handy if you’re looking for some travel tips before your next vacation.
But as we pointed out during the early days of Graph Search, results for restaurants your friends like can be skewed by establishments who have big social media presences, or friends who spend a lot of time hitting the ‘Like’ button on Facebook. So while it may be interesting to see what your friends like, whether that information helps you find a great steakhouse for Friday night depends on where you live and what your friends are doing on Facebook.
Then of course, there are Graph Search’s questions around privacy, since you can’t opt out of the service. Tumblr user Tom Scott set off a mini-controversy around Graph Search in January when he was able to surface controversial results such as women that live nearby who are single and like getting drunk. Then, in June, a mobile developer claimed he was able to use Graph Search to scrape 2.5 million phone numbers from Facebook user profiles.
by Ian Paul, TechHive