Facebook Graph Search goes live, we go hands-on

Facebook Graph Search is live and rolling out to a handful of people, and when we say handful we mean it. According to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, the initial beta is available to a couple of hundred people of the 1 billion-odd users and counting. Thankfully for you, Pocket-lint is one of those couple of hundred.

Simplified design

Turn Graph Search on and the Facebook that you know and love is still there, but with a couple of cosmetic changes. The main crux of the site remains the same: you still have your news feed in the centre, still have your navigation bar on the left hand side, you still have your Facebook. What's different, however, is the top navigation bar on the Facebook site. So sure of the Facebook brand, the name has vanished to be replaced with a single lowercase "f".

Old design

New design

The blue bar is now simplified - gone are the cluttered icons dotted across the top of the page with a traditional looking white search bar; in is a new single blue bar that you simply start to type into.

The moment you do, suggestions appear in a drop-down box, trying to second guess you in the same way Google does when you search for something on the search engine. But here your searches are more structured, more suggestive. Type friends, for example, and it asks you whether you are searching for your friends, or friends of friends. The design is clean and easy to use with a good use of colour to make it easy to understand. 

Friends, Photos, Places, and Interests

At the moment you can search people, photos, places, and interests, but Facebook says this will grow over time as it gets more and more feedback.

If you think that's limited it isn't, it still throws up plenty of options such as finding out what music your friends are listening too, games they are playing, whether they are single, where they work, and much more.

READ: What is Facebook Graph Search?

When it comes to photos you can search friends' photos, restricting it to places, or time. "Search photos of friends taken before 2000" throws up interesting results, as does "Photos of friends taken in London". Those timeline users who tried to fill in the gaps might not be so sure now.

Places works to wipe out services like Yelp, allowing you to look for things like "restaurants in Ascot my friends like", while interests means you can tap up your mates to find good TV shows to watch.

Turns out the people I follow all watch Homeland, The Wire and - much to journalist Will Head's delight, no doubt - Frackulous: it was a weekly web-tv app review show.

It's here that Facebook shows that results can be tainted and you might not like what it recommends or what your friends have liked. Of course if they haven't liked anything then your results aren't going to be that great. What also affects your results is from how many friends you are pulling data.

Making the data work for you

The good news is that unlike Google, SEO bods won't be able to affect results in the same way, but the bad news is that to get the most out of the data available you'll need a lot of friends and for those friends to be keen to invest time and effort in Facebook liking movies, restaurants, checking into places and the like.

If you've recently taken the approach of culling your Facebook friends to a select few and those few only use the service to share the odd picture or status update about having lunch, the Graph Search feature isn't going to be that helpful.

Beyond your mates

Facebook, realising this, has come up with a number of ways to offer more beyond your friends and family.

This means that a quick search for "Photos taken at The Olympics @ North Greenwich Arena" returns thousands of images taken at the London 2012 Games, which people have made public.

Want to know what "TV shows are watched by Journalists?" the answer, says Facebook, is hit 90s sitcom Friends. Doctors like to listen to Bad, according to Facebook, while the most popular restaurant in London is Maze by Gordon Ramsay.

That data, used and questioned in the right way, could have huge potential and offer more relevant results than Google.

If no results are returned the results revert to Bing, displayed within the Facebook window - think weather or reviews of something, at which point SEO hijinks kick in just like Google.

Privacy

Nothing that you couldn't see before has been revealed with the new Search Graph, however content that you might have forgotten about will resurface, be it a page you liked years ago, or an image of you snapped at a party three workplaces ago.

If you're all of a sudden worried about all this you can quickly block stuff you've liked, said, or been tagged in and Facebook has now tried to make this more relevant, supposedly - we are still looking for the link. For Graph Search to work and work well for Facebook it hopes as few people as possible opt out of sharing their data.

Game changer or just another Google clone?

It's really early days for Facebook Graph Search and trying to find the best ways to use the service are only just being discovered. Facebook is already recommending journalists use the service to find people who work for a specific company so you can contact them for information - handy, but also worrying if you are the person about to be bombarded.

There is also the worry about being stalked. The idea of being able to search friends of friends who are single will no doubt raise doubts and concerns among users already worried about privacy. A quick Facebook Graph Search shows me I've got lots of friends who are single. If I wasn't married this could mean open season. 

Facebook Graph Search is a very different proposition, more Wolfram Alpha in its approach than Google, but give it five years and that could be a very different situation. This is just the start. Even if you don't get access straight away, Graph Search is something you need to be aware of. 

You can sign up for the beta of Graph Search at Facebook



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