Facebook's B.S.-powered search engine - Macleans.ca

Facebook’s B.S.-powered search engine

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

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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