Facebook Graph Search opens up its doors; mobile version coming soon


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a keynote address during the Facebook f8 conference on Sept. 22, 2011 in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)

Did your Facebook page look a little different when you signed on Monday morning? Don't worry, it’s not just you.

Facebook said Monday that all of its users who view the site in U.S. English will get access to a new search tool over the next few weeks, which means that searching — and being searched for — just got a whole lot easier for a big chunk of the Facebook population.

The search tool, called Graph Search, takes information you already give Facebook such as likes, location data, tags on photos you upload or pages you follow, and puts that all into a central network search engine. (If it sounds familiar to some of you, it’s because Graph Search was originally announced in January and released in a limited preview.)

Graph Search respects the privacy settings you’ve already popped onto your posts and photos, but that doesn’t mean that everything you have on Facebook has the setting you want it to have.

So while it’s convenient for me to find “photos of me and Jane Doe taken in Manhattan,” it’s also easier to find a more generic term, such as “photos taken in Washington, District of Columbia.” If you have public photos with a location tag, they will show up in the results of anyone who looks for it.

That could mean that some users are in for a surprise. A search for pictures from my hometown in Minnesota turned up pictures I took on my last trip home but also strangers’ wedding photos and baby photos, images of people holding up diplomas — complete with their full names — and pictures of people in their bathrobes at home. None of which these strangers were probably planning on sharing with the world or, almost certainly, with a reporter at The Washington Post.

As users get the new search, they should see a reminder from Facebook suggesting they review their privacy settings, by way of the aptly named privacy settings menu. From there, you can ensure that future posts are only visible to a limited audience. If you click through to the full settings screen, you can also retroactively limit the audience of past posts.

Graph Search not only makes it easier for Facebook users to catalog and organize their and their friends’ information, but also provides a clear incentive for businesses and other organizations to pump up their like counts. It can act as a sort of Yelp-like service, but based more closely on the information that people you know — and maybe even respect — have posted to the social network.

Facebook said that the Graph Search is still a work in progress (the company is, in fact, keeping the beta tag on the feature) but that it is working to include personal posts and comments searchable in the future, and is also working on a mobile version of Graph Search.

(The Washington Post Company’s chief executive and chairman, Don Graham, is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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