Zuckerberg Unveils “Graph Search” on Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday unveiled a new type of search that allows users to easily find information from within their friends' news feeds.

The new feature, called "graph search," will allow users to easily find things like which of their friends like a particular TV show, restaurant or band — or combinations of both. So you can find out which of your friends lives in San Jose and likes "Downton Abbey." Or find photos of your friends hiking.

The search finds information from within Facebook's "open graph," meaning it searches the Facebook news feeds of your friends and others who have their settings set to public. It doesn't search the broader web like Google. But near the end of the media-only event in Menlo Park, Zuckerberg did say that Facebook is partnering with Microsoft's Bing to bring in web search results.

During a question and answer period, Zuckerberg was asked about why Facebook isn't partnering with Google on this project.

"We would love to work with Google," he said. "We just wanted to incorporate search, and as long as the companies are willing to honor the privacy of folks sharing content on Facebook, we'll work with them. We just haven't gotten it worked out with Google yet."

He added: "We don't think people will be coming to us exclusively for web search. But we wanted to provide good search results in graph search."

The new search method, Zuckerberg said, is designed to give you the answer, "not give you links that lead to the answer."

He also said that Facebook is working with Microsoft to incorporate "social signals" into the search. And he added that at this point there wasn't any business model out there to make money off this venture.

Facebook shares went down 2.6 percent , or 50 cents, on Tuesday, to $30.45.

Several analysts, however, seemed to like the new function. Danny Sullivan, considered the "search engine guru," told NBC Bay Area that this was something that Facebook had long been missing. He liked the idea that you could search for things among your friends and people you know, and theoretically, trust.

Zuckerberg kicked off the mysterious event by telling reporters: "Our mission is to make the world more open and connected."

The event was not open to cameras, but several media outlets, including the Mercury News and  engadget.com, liveblogged the affair, held at Facebook headquarters.

Zuckerberg talked about the "three pillars" to the Facebook system, the news feed, the timeline and the "Graph Search." It's not a web search, but a graph search, he said, which already has 1 billion people, 240 billion photos and 1 trillion connections.

The rollout began on Tuesday, perhaps to hundreds or thousands of users, but getting everyone on board will depend on the beta testing.

"You really need to just ask, 'Who are my friends in San Francisco?'" Zuckerberg said, "And get the answer quickly." Then Zuckerberg gave a demonstration, by searching for a "small Dothraki party," by searching for friends in Palo Alto who also like "Game of Thrones."

The search technique has very real implications, according to the Facebook folks.

Facebook’s Lars Rasmussen had a toothache a few months ago and needed to find a dentist. He typed "Dentists liked by my friends" in Graph Search and said he immediately found a dentist who was liked by 17 of his friends, including one friend who does not like pain.

As to privacy issues, if a person shares a profile with friends, that wouldn't show up in a search — unless you are a friend.

New Facebook privacy settings allow users to see all of their activity in one place, including photos on friends’ Facebook pages users are tagged in. The new settings allow Facebook users to see all non-public photos of themselves, untag themselves and then send their friends’ messages asking them to take the photos down.

Zuckerberg showed the crowd how he hid three photos of himself in a sumo fat suit, and then he gave a demonstration on how to remove those pictures. The pictures were taken by another user, and the system sends a note requesting them to remove the photos.

The creators of graph search, Rasmussen and Tom Stocky, wrote a piece on how "Graph Search" and web search is very different. Web search, for example, will take the key word "hip-hop" and provide the best possible result. In graph search, users can type in "my friends in New York who like Jay-Z," to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that's been shared on Facebook. For now, the search, which is in beta form, is focusing on four main areas: people, photos, places and interests.

Here they are: 

  • People: “friends who live in my city,” “people from my hometown who like hiking,” “friends of friends who have been to Yosemite National Park,” “software engineers who live in San Francisco and like skiing," "people who like things I like," "people who like tennis and live nearby"
  • Photos: “photos I like,” “photos of my family,” “photos of my friends before 1999,” "photos of my friends taken in New York," “photos of the Eiffel Tower” 
  • Places: “restaurants in San Francisco,” “cities visited by my family,” "Indian restaurants liked by my friends from India," “tourist attractions in Italy visited by my friends,” “restaurants in New York liked by chefs," "countries my friends have visited"
  • Interests: “music my friends like,” “movies liked by people who like movies I like,” "languages my friends speak," “strategy games played by friends of my friends,” "movies liked by people who are film directors," "books read by CEOs"

NBC Bay Area's Scott Budman contributed to this report.

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