Facebook Graph Search
Wired, January 2013
Edited by Andy Ross
For years, Facebook watchers have wondered when the company would unleash
the potential of its underpowered search bar. Now we know. Graph Search is
fundamentally different from web search. Facebook is helping its users tap
its vast database to make better use of their social graph, as Mark
Zuckerberg calls their network of relationships with friends, acquaintances,
favorite celebrities, and preferred brands.
Graph Search will be able
to extract meaning from the social graph in much the same way that Google's
original search unearthed the hidden treasures of the web. Thanks to Graph
Search, people will almost certainly use Facebook in entirely new ways: to
seek out dates, recruit for job openings, find buddies to go out with on
short notice, and look for new restaurants and other businesses.
Zuckerberg: "When I first made Facebook, we actually offered some
functionality that was like this but only for your college. Facebook then
was arguably as much for meeting new people around you and exploring your
community as it was for keeping in touch with the people you already knew.
But it was such a hard problem to do it for more than a few thousand people
at a time."
Graph Search got its start in the spring of 2011, when
Zuckerberg asked Lars Rasmussen to join him on a walk. Rasmussen, 44, had
joined Facebook the previous year, from Google. Facebook, Zuckerberg said,
had a unique opportunity to deliver fantastic value with detailed and
targeted dives into its huge, structured database. Rasmussen was sold.
That summer, Rasmussen, armed with a crude demo, met with Zuckerberg.
The engineer laid out an expansive vision that would allow the engine to
process virtually any query. He talked of a search engine that could answer
requests like "show me pictures of my friends and me visiting California in
Zuckerberg says he thought the approach was dead right but
probably impossible: "You could type in anything you wanted and it would be
the title of a new page with the content just magically laid out. No one’s
gotten natural language to work like this. And then to actually be able to
index all the stuff. There’s more than a trillion connections on Facebook!
Building up the infrastructure to index all of it and be able to cut it in
any way is a monumental technology challenge."
Graph Search will
require a full Facebook makeover. To encourage people to write more detailed
queries, Facebook made the search bar bigger, dominating a wide blue banner
toward the top of the page. The rules of Graph Search are different from web
search. Graph Search works better the more specific and complex the request.
Zuckerberg gave me an early look at Graph Search. The results
dominated the left side of the screen, and the right side was filled with a
dense column of further choices to refine or redirect my query. They call
this the power bar. Each result also has a little search button, so you can
do further searches on that result.
This launch version of Graph
Search is only the beginning. Still absent: ads. But not for long.
AR This is so exciting. My work at SAP was
largely on envisioning how to improve the search experience with structured
search, and we found it very hard to implement structured search from
natural language queries on SAP internal "social network" data. If Facebook
can get this right, they take us a long way toward the "holy grail" of