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Posted at 04:26 PM ET, 01/15/2013

Facebook’s Graph Search: Another reminder that your big data has big value


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at an event at Facebook's headquarters office in Menlo Park, Calif., on Jan. 15, 2012. (Josh Edelson - AFP/Getty Images)

If you have ever figuratively banged your head up against Facebook’s search feature, Mark Zuckerberg had some good news for you today.

The Facebook co-founder and chief executive announced Graph Search, a new search feature on the platform used by well over 1 billion people — a billion people who generate a lot of data per second. Whenever a change is made to the way that data can be accessed, it creates more than a little buzz, but it should also serve as a reminder for social media users of how valuable their data is.


Chris Marra, a Facebook Inc. employee, wearing a Facebook T-shirt, watches as Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and founder of Facebook Inc., introduces Graph Search at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Jan. 15. (Noah Berger - Bloomberg)

Graph Search, unlike Facebook’s current universal search feature, allows users to type in phrases to winnow their social graph down to relevant posts and “likes.” But whatever you do, don’t call it Web search, outlined the company in a release posted on the site Tuesday:

“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.”

This distinction, in time, may be one without much of a difference given the volume of data produced on Facebook. As one headline reads on Gizmodo, “Facebook just declared war on Google: Meet your new search engine.” The difference, for the time being, however, is a marked one.
A screenshot of the Graph Search. Facebook announced the new feature Jan. 15. Graph search allows users to type in phrases to effectively access their social graph. (Facebook)

The search feature, which is being trickled out to Facebook users over time, is still in beta and only a fraction of the data generated on the platform has been indexed. But as Gizmodo’s Kyle Wagner outlines, the data trove Graph Search draws from will undoubtedly grow over time, making it much more powerful. Users who are eager to get access to the search feature sooner rather than later can join the wait list.


A screenshot of Graph Search, the new search feature from Facebook. (Facebook)

The new feature, as The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama points out, presents a new entry point for advertisers a la the Google model. And beyond that, it is a notable development in the big data universe, as overused as some may find the term “big data.” Graph Search may not be the harnessing of individuals’ medical records to find a disease cure, but it is yet another of many signs pointing to the inherent value of the information we share.

(The Washington Post Company’s chief executive and chairman Don Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors. The author’s sibling is an employee with Google.)

Kolawole is the editor of Ideas@Innovations. Follow her at @emikolawole.

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