After largely ignoring that little white box at the top of its interface for years, Facebook is finally getting serious about search.
The company announced today a new experience that it’s calling Facebook Graph Search.
It relies heavily on “Likes” and other connections to determine what to show as the most relevant search results for each user. It also offers what you might think of as search filters — the ability to search based on the vast user data that Facebook has in its system (or “graph,” as they like to say).
Graph Search and web search are very different. Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: “hip hop”) and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: “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. We believe they have very different uses.
For now, Facebook Graph Search will only include people, photos, places and interests — posts and other interests (like song listens) are in the works. Here are some screenshots provided by Facebook.
Search results will be personalized, although Facebook says that more generic queries should produce fairly common results for most people. And Facebook has stressed that search results won’t reveal anything that was previously kept private; you’ll only be able to search for content that’s been shared with you.
Facebook Graph Search will be more valuable to active Facebook users — those who’ve actively Liked businesses and pages, artists and movies, and so forth.
For now, it’s a beta product that’s rolling out slowly and those who want to kick the tires will need to get on a waiting list.
What About Challenging Google & Other Search Engines?
Facebook isn’t launching a traditional search engine like Google or Bing is — this is a social search engine, and possibly the one most likely to succeed due to Facebook’s billion-plus user base and the vast amounts of data that users put into Facebook.
The big question for the long haul is whether or not Facebook Graph Search is good enough that users will change their search activity enough to put a dent in “the Google habit.” Although Facebook is saying that its new search product offers a different use-case than traditional web search, anything that keeps users on Facebook longer and away from Google would be a win in Facebook’s view.
It’s also worth noting that Facebook has, as you’d expect, tapped Bing to provide web-based search results when needed to help fill with content that Facebook can’t find within its own walls.
Local search may be one of the most compelling use cases. As the second screenshot above shows, Facebook can build a very Yelp-like and Foursquare-like local recommendations engine based on the combination of friends, their Facebook check-ins, their “likes” of local businesses and similar data.
We’ll have more later today, including an in-depth look at how Facebook Graph Search works. You can also read Danny Sullivan’s live coverage of Facebook’s announcement over on our sister site, Marketing Land.
UPDATE: This article has been expanded since its original publication with screenshots from Facebook and additional information from the live event that wasn’t included in Facebook’s online news release.