Facebook’s B.S.-powered search engine

A new search tool is only as good as the information we post, writes Jesse Brown

It’s not a phone, thank God.

Today’s surprise announcement from Facebook was the unveiling of a new kind of search engine. “Graph Search” (which will invariably be referred to by non-Facebook employees as “Facebook Search”) draws on the massive database we have all created just by being on Facebook. According to Zuck and the other execs at the press event, here’s what you might use it to find:

  • “Friends of my friends who are single males in San Francisco, Calif..”
  • “Restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends from India.”
  • “People named Chris who are friends of Lars wand went to Stanford University.”
  • “Movies my friends like.”

On the surface, this is very cool. Social information holds incredible value. When we’re looking for films, books, restaurants, employees or people to sleep with, referrals from friends mean more to us than any Yelp rating, LinkedIn resume or Match.com profile. Graph Search offers powerful filters to let users pinpoint results: the Chinese restaurant most loved by all your friends together might be the pedestrian P.F. Chang’s, but the Chinese restaurant most loved by your Chinese friends could be a hidden gem in a strip mall. Recruitment applications are just as exciting: if you need, say, a programmer with an English degree, Graph Search will look for one who’s a friend of one of  your friends.

But therein lies the catch: Graph Search is only as good as the information we give to Facebook. And my Facebook information is garbage.

My profile does not include my employers or my alma mater. I don’t “check-in” when I visit a location, nor do I rate restaurants or movies on Facebook. I don’t “like” things because I like them, I like them when I’m trying to help my friends promote something, or to make a cheeky joke. Speaking of my friends, they represent a dwindling percentage of my Facebook “friends.” Being a friend of one of my Facebook friends is not much by way of a vouch. Gaddafi might be on that list.

Am I alone? I don’t think so. A quick flip through the FB profiles of people I know reveals tons of missing and/or false information. We seem to have chosen to represent ourselves most truthfully through our news feed comments (which is what we use Facebook for), while flipping the bird at Facebook’s prescribed forms and activities. Perhaps my network is filled with anomalies, and certainly there are more prolific and earnest Facebook users out there, but they, too, “friend” scads of strangers. Friendship data is the core essential unit of Facebook’s knowledge, and it is inherently untrustworthy.

In short, Graph Search seems like a powerful way to sort through a database of shitty information.

That said, I’m still keen to give it a whirl. It’s in beta, rolling out slowly in the weeks ahead as Facebook works out the bugs.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown




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Facebook’s B.S.-powered search engine

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  1. Gotta disagree with you this time Jesse. Sure there’s a lot of garbage data on Facebook, but as you state, there’s also a lot of valuable data.

    I’ve no doubt that Facebook will very quickly learn how to filter out the noise from the “good” data, just as Google’s learned to filter out junk results from the good, and learned to deal with Web Spammers and crooks along the way. They’ve also said that for queries where they don’t have enough good data to give you results, they’ll defer to Bing. Just as Bing is going to be using Facebook data to personalize results. Not to mention that a Facebook “Like” is more than clicking like on Facebook, it’s every URL you send in a message, share, or comment on.

    Also, don’t you think it’s a bit premature to write it off as “BS” before you’ve even tried it? I mean, Search on Facebook in it’s current form is perhaps the most useless feature on the site. Any improvement should be welcomed.

  2. Disagree with Jesse. True enough not 100% accurate because not 100% truthful but then again – have you done any market surveys? Have cheated and lied just a little, just for the fun of it? OK then what you may be lacking in honesty you more than make up in sample group breadth. Second to none really – with all the lies it’s still the most powerful data base on earth today.

  3. i suggest we call the fb search database “Rick Omenized”, after our own less-than-honest-with-the-details commenter here on the Macleans’ board.

  4. I’m sure sorting out good information from the shitty kind is their top priority. For instance, obviously, if you friend a thousand people, they are not necessarily people close to you.

    Also:
    “Friends of my friends who are single males in San Francisco, Calif..”
    — Hey, I met this girl through Facebook Search. We had a wild night.
    — That’s my sister!

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