How The New Facebook Search Is Different & Unique From Google Search

facebook logoAt long last, Facebook’s search challenge to Google has arrived. But it has arrived in a much different format than many expected. Indeed, Facebook’s not using its data to provide a better search than Google. Facebook is providing a new type of search that you simply can’t do on Google or anywhere else.

The Connections Of Links Vs. Likes

I’ve struggled with how to describe this new service. I hate the term “graph,” whether it’s used by Facebook for “Social Graph” and now for “Facebook Graph Search” or Google for “Knowledge Graph.” To the ordinary person, I feel “graph” is a noise word, saying nothing about how it represents connections between objects.

With a typical Google search, the objects we search for are Web pages, with the connections (or graph) that help determine the pages that rise to the top primarily being links from across the Web. Links, simple form, are like votes, helping Google decide which are the most popular pages to show for a particular topic.

With Facebook Graph Search, the objects we search for aren’t Web pages but instead virtual representations of real world objects: people, places and things. The connections are primarily Facebook Likes. Did such-and-such a person like a particular photo? A particular doctor? A particular restaurant? Those likes are the ties that bind the information in Facebook together.

Multidimensional Searching

Another difference is the layers of searching or refinement that Facebook Search offers compared to Google. For example, a Google search can show you restaurants in San Francisco, a pretty much single dimensional view.

A Facebook search can show you restaurants in San Francisco liked by your friends. Or further, those liked by your friends who actually live in San Francisco, as opposed to those who live elsewhere. Or those liked by your single friends, your straight friends, your gay friends, your friends who work for a particular company….

Sure, if you drill into Google+ Local, you can get something like this. It’ll offer to show you restaurants liked by your friends or liked by those similar to you. There are other types of refinements that can be done. But you won’t get the incredible myriad of possibilities that Facebook Graph search allows….

  • Restaurants run by employees of a particular cooking school
  • Pictures by friends who live in London
  • Friends who are friends with people who work for a particular company, say, all the people at Facebook who know people who work at Apple
  • Product managers who have turned into company founders
  • Movies that your friends like

The Promise & Challenge

Will people want to search in these ways, to find all the books liked by two different people, or to find the most popular music liked by those who like both President Barack Obama and Clint Eastwood? At first, I’m sure there will be plenty of curiosity searches like this. But the bigger question will be whether the connections Facebook mines grow substantial enough to give Facebook Graph Search serious utility.

Need a good plumber? An electrician? Someone to do your taxes? A doctor? A dentist? These are all typically questions that are great to ask friends. You trust friends. With Facebook Graph Search, there’s the promise of asking all your friends this at once without actually having to ask them. You can just search and discover professionals like this that they like.

That all depends, however, on whether those professionals themselves have created a presence for themselves on Facebook. In turn, it also depends on whether those who use them have also liked them. Without those connections, there’s nothing to mine.

When I’ve watched Facebook show me demos of Facebook Graph Search, and do some of the example searches I’ve itemized above, it’s impressive. But it’s also impressive because it’s a person from Facebook who makes heavy use on Facebook to connect to things and who is, in turn, tapping into the knowledge of many other Facebookers who are similarly hyper-connected. They are not, in a word, normal.

Fixing The Disconnected Me

Consider me. Not only have I not liked my electrician, my plumber, my dentist, my doctor or my tax person on Facebook, but I don’t even know if they have Facebook pages. I have nothing to offer to my Facebook friends in this regard.

Similarly, despite the huge number of books I read through my Kindle, I never go to like those books on Facebook, so books I love are more or less invisible on Facebook.

Facebook itself understands this challenge, but it’s hoping the promise of what search can provide will help encourage people to build the connections they may lack now.

“There are now new reasons to make these connections. We’re hoping the existence of that will encourage it,” said Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, who has worked closely on the Facebook search product. “But absolutely, early on, that [your degree of connectedness] will make the experience you have with this vary.”

A Better Search For What You Do On Facebook

If the utility to use Facebook as a type of super-Yelp or super-LinkedIn doesn’t prove itself at first, at the very least, Facebook Graph Search will allow people to search within Facebook itself in a better way than they can now. For example, people will be able to find all the photos they’ve liked on Facebook.

“This is one of the best queries in the system,” Lars Rasmussen told me, the former Googler that Facebook lured away to be director of engineering, and who’s overseen the Facebook search project. “You probably like a couple of photos a day, but you’ve never been able to see a collection of them before.”

Facebook’s “Third View” That You Create

Rasmussen and Stocky expressed Facebook Graph Search as a new, third way that people will view Facebook. They already have their own timeline, to see what’s related to them. They have a newsfeed view, to discover what’s happening with others. Now they have a “search view” to see whatever they like.

“We’re giving users a way to create whatever view they want,” Stocky said. Or as Rasmussen said, people give a “title” for a page they want with their search queries “and we’re just filling in the content underneath.”

The new service will be Facebook’s first ever “beta” product and the first ever requiring a waitlist. Over the coming months, it will slowly become more available to those in English and down the line extended to other languages.

Facebook stresses that only information that a person can regularly see on Facebook will be revealed in search. Given this, there shouldn’t be any privacy surprises. Nothing is being shared beyond the people you already share with. However, I think some people will get surprised, as the new search makes it easier to locate information in ways they weren’t expected, similar to how Timeline did the same, when it launched.

In a quirk, those who opt into the new service won’t be able to search any longer for posts and status updates that match a particular topic. That’s a future improvement that will come to the new search. But Facebook says the loss shouldn’t be noticed given that this type of search is rarely done, in part because the current search feature for it isn’t very good. That’s what Facebook aims to correct.

Results are also personalized. If you do a search filtered to see what your friends like, what other people see for their friends is obviously going to be different. But even if you do a general search, say to see the most popular music liked by those in a particular city, there’s a chance that the results you get might be weighted a bit more by your friends, Facebook said. However, for general searches like that, people should see fairly similar answers.

So, want to see all the TV shows that are liked by software engineers, as an example of that type of general search? “I wouldn’t normally think to search for this anywhere else,” Stocky said, offering up yet another example of what the new Facebook Graph Search promises.

No, you wouldn’t, because until now, there really was nowhere else to search for that type of thing. That’s the uniqueness that Facebook brings into the search game today. It’ll be interesting to see where people drive it forward.

See also our related coverage:

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Facebook: Facebook Search | Features: Analysis | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • George Michie

    Danny, I agree with you. A really interesting premise, but seems like it requires a level of richness in data that they won’t have for some time, if ever. Netflix’s recommendation engine works well, and works better as you rate more movies. The incentive for rating is clear, and the scope is limited. I think the power of Netflix comes from not paying attention to what friends like (too sparse a population) but in looking across tens of millions of raters to see what people who seem to share your tastes like. Maybe that’s where this will go, but it seems to me more relevant for restaurants in that sense than any other type of business. Interesting to see how this evolves, and what advertising vehicles will be created around it.

  • Andrea Moro

    Like this bit … “If the utility to use Facebook as a type of super-Yelp or super-LinkedIn doesn’t prove itself at first, at the very least, Facebook Graph Search will allow people to search within Facebook itself in a better way than they can now.”

    So they have invested how much … should we say $3m at minimum to come up with a better internal search engine?

    I bet Zucky would swear until Christmas time if that will happen. And guess what … I believe he will do. :)

  • Clyde Smith

    “To the ordinary person, I feel “graph” is a noise word, saying nothing about how it represents connections between objects.”

    Well put!

  • kiran bhanushali

    so they want to create an internet within facebook with likes replacing hyperlinks. And everyday users are supposed to build it out for them. What do they get in return for the work?

  • Justin

    Danny, what is very interesting is the inference that a “Like” is in some form a recommendation. The fact of the matter is people “Like” things for many reasons that may or may not be the basis of a recommendation to friends who are in need. Without some form of commenting on our Likes and segmenting these preferences, I am concerned that connections and likes may not be an effective signal of quality.

  • Philopoemen

    So Facebook has built a Google+ clone?

  • John S. Wilson

    Great breakdown. I think there’s some promise here but it’ll be awhile before it translates to something very useful. People just aren’t used to sharing everything with Facebook. I love Foursquare and use that for checkins instead of Facebook Places. That’s where info is on restaurants I visit and like, as well as on OpenTable. One could argue that the sheer size of Facebook’s community is enough, and that may be true. But if I believe my network doesn’t really use Facebook for restaurant checkins either, then why would Facebook be the first place I go for dining options? That will be the real test no matter the category: Does my network use Facebook in this manner?

  • Phil Oakley


  • bregalad

    I don’t understand why anyone checks into Foursquare or any other location tracking site. The hundreds of “friends” who once sat in math class with me or worked in an unrelated department at a former employer have no business knowing where I am every minute of the day. Even the babysitter doesn’t know which restaurant or theatre I’m at. She has phone numbers for myself, my wife, my parents and 911. That should cover all eventualities.

  • Sholto

    thanks for the comment on graph. The fact that these companies insist on using the word demonstrates the gulf between them and us, between the engineers and the world. I am sad that they have built a search engine as I was hoping nobody would compete with Google and then they would recognised as complete monopolists and sanctimonious tossers as well and the DOJ might be forced to act. “might”

  • Sholto

    everybody in India uses Like to mean I have seen your comment or picture whether they like it or not.

  • Sholto

    a monopoly, of course.

  • Scott Ayres

    Love what Facebook is attempting to do with this. This is a complete disruption to how we use the net.

  • Br. Bill

    Finally, someone who has met EVERYBODY IN INDIA.

  • Br. Bill

    Facebook isn’t even capable of searching itself for past posts. Just try. Good luck with that. It seems like it should work, but it doesn’t.

  • Scott Jones

    It’s shit.

  • Hashim Warren

    he most interesting feature is the Bing integration:

    “Now when you do a web search on Facebook, the new search results page features a two-column layout with Bing-powered web results appearing on the left-hand side overlaid with social information from Facebook including how many people like a given result. On the right hand side, you will see content from Facebook Pages and apps that are related to your search.”

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  • yogirk

    That’s an impressive feat, considering there are a billion of us :)

  • Matt McGee

    I use Foursquare regularly because its recommendations gets smarter for me the more I use it, so when I go to a new city for a conference or sports event, it does a pretty fine job of giving me suggestions for places to eat, etc.

    And I only have about 40 friends on FSQ. I don’t connect there with everyone who was in math class or worked at the same place I did five years ago.

    Just FYI. :-)

  • Sudipto Mahindar

    FB Graph search can directly affect the Local search more..though it is also make a big difference for the big brands too. Its depends on how advertisers and marketers going to use in

  • Sholto

    Work of lifetime. Just finishing up in bihar where nobody i have met uses facebook

  • Sabine Hossenfelder

    What I really want is not to search for a restaurant my friends like (which, for all I know, they might have liked to get a discount), but I want to be able to search my timeline and tag my own posts with keywords. But heaven forbid fb might become useful.

  • Su Hastings

    Interesting move indeed by Facebook. Seems to be going where Google attempted to start making tracks through Google+ and Search, plus your world. Our own take on it here –

  • John S. Wilson

    Simple. Because you control who sees your information on Foursquare. It’s not public for all to see. And the reason I use it is because it’s a great way to organize the restaurants I’ve visited and keep notes on what I liked. When a friend asked me what good places she should check out in Atlanta, I went to Foursquare and have her my top 5.

  • David Veldt

    …so you’re telling me I need to get some friends, huh? Damn it.

    I’m far from a Facebook “power user” and I’m certainly not friends with any. As you pointed out, this is dependent on a lot. On the other hand, I can see digital marketers (ok, people like me) using this as a further push to clients to establish themselves on Facebook, drive likes, etc. which may help boost the effectiveness of this functionality.

  • Ric Sansand

    Your point is spot on Justin and to me it screams new FB profit vehicle! This is just another way to open up raw unapproved peripheral preference user data that will facilitate extra creepy ad targeting or serve as a premium platform for maniacal consumer social branding.

    Oh and should the suckers in the system see some benefit, all the better to Zuck and his minions

  • Harry Hawk

    Brand Pages are a growing part of Facebook and of course a critical part of the Facebook income stream. My question is how will brands be able to make use of Graph Search?

  • Mark Traphagen

    Great coverage of what Graph Search can and can’t do. I have a serious concern, though, about the quality of recommendations that an engine based around Facebook Likes can offer, because a FB Like does not always mean what we mean in real life when we say we like something. I’ve detailed this concern at where I also predict a coming Like Inflation due to the new search.

  • KurtHenninger

    The core question is whether this will gain any traction, as it is a new behavior and a different intuitive feel. It will be interesting to see if it takes hold.

  • r00fus

    If it worked. Why can’t I search for my own stuff? The lack of reflexivity makes me hesitant to put the data (ie, liking my dentist) in there to see. Half of Facebook is showing off how well you’ve feathered your nest. Search does not help one bit in that.

  • Gary Andrew

    One of the proofs that not all of the likes doesn’t really mean that you are recommending a content/page. I have seen thousands of services like $50 for 1,000,000 likes. I’m pretty sure, if likes are the basis, India will win this marketing competition.

  • http://www.BreakingNewsBlog.Info/ ++++++ BreakingNewsBlog ++++++

    I’ve already predicted and suggested a FB search engine about two years ago in this FB page … facebook . com/FaBoSE

  • David Abraham

    “Likes” are so diluted they are meaningless. Facebook friends are not friends at all, they are contacts. Graph search if based in this data will be useless. Cookie spy data may come to FB’s rescue though.

  • keaner

    “Given this, there shouldn’t be any privacy surprises. Nothing is being shared beyond the people you already share with” hahahahahahahaha

    Ask zucks sister about that one. Facebook privacy is so broken

  • Matt McGee

    About a year ago, I cut about 300 of my 400 friends, and unliked about 20-30 pages. The data is no longer meaningless because my Facebook friends are actual friends and the things on my Like list are things I actually like.

    I used to hate Facebook, but enjoy it a lot more now.

  • bregalad

    In theory you control who sees your information on Facebook too, but it’s got privacy holes big enough to sail the USS Nimitz through.

    My opinion was biased by the fact that I see lots of Foursquare check-ins on Twitter. Every one of Steve Wozniak’s 142,000 followers can see his every move. I’m glad to hear that’s an aberration rather than default behaviour for Foursquare.

  • John S. Wilson

    Yeah, he chooses to share it there. It’s no different than him putting a status on Facebook vs sending a private message. It comes bak to how each individual chooses to share info.

  • Pat Grady

    Don’t let engineers name things you’re selling to the masses, leave it to the marketers.

  • Pat Grady

    I can smell new types of spam beginning to brew…

  • Carol

    But some likes are clearly for winning the prizes offered by the firm,that means any one can get more likes with the help of good competition prizes.Then what is the role of quality in these likes.

  • meher


    How can i make my facebook page apppear top in search.

    no country resrtictn given.age 13+ given.have more than 75 likes.many photos uploaded.posts are put.

    But places with similar name of my business pages coming up in fb search.wats the solution.

  • VitaminP

    I liked everything up until you compared it to a “Super-Yelp”. That brought to mind an image of a super community of malcontents and failing businesses resorting to desperate measures such as reviewing themselves favorably while writing scathing critiques of their competitors.

    Yelp has ZERO credibility from my experience with the site, and to draw any sort of comparison between it and any other site makes me far less likely to actually visit that site or feature or an existing site.

    Of all of the sites that accept business reviews, Yelp’s are by far the least credible and least sincere.

  • Matt McGee

    But if you read that bit closely, there’s no reference being made to the community whatsoever. The reference is to the local search/discovery utility, and how you might be able to use Graph Search in the same way you search for local businesses and recommendations on Yelp and other sites.

  • V.

    People shouldn’t. It’s always been possible for other people to see something saying “this person likes this page”.

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