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Facebook introduces social search feature

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Facebook’s 1 billion users will soon be able to search their friends’ favorite vacation spots or most-traveled running trails using a new tool unveiled by the company Tuesday.

Graph Search marks Facebook’s entry into the search market currently dominated by Google and could allow the social network to leverage the treasure trove of information it keeps on the “likes,” interests and preferences of its users with advertisers.

“Graph Search lets you tap into the value of that information,” said Kate O’Neill, a Facebook product marketing manager.

Facebook said that users will be able to look up such information as “friends who live in my city,” “photos I like” or “Indian restaurants liked by my friends in India” and get the results instantly. Microsoft, which holds a small stake in Facebook, will serve up answers from the Bing search engine when Facebook can’t.

“The social link gives you additional context,” said Andrew Tonner, an analyst with the Motley Fool. “You’re more likely to take some sort of action if someone you know has also had a favorable experience.”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the effort with much fanfare at the company’s California headquarters. Investors have been nervous about Facebook’s ability to sustain revenue since its public offering last year and ­appeared unimpressed by the company’s announcement. Facebook shares, which soared ahead of the announcement, fell nearly 3 percent on the news, closing at $30.10 per share.

The test version will not come with enhanced advertising and is not available on mobile devices, which make up an growing share of Facebook’s traffic.

If the tool is successful, Facebook could become competitive with Google, which has more than 60 percent of the search market and has made a similar attempt to marry search and social data. Although the two companies have similar products, said Ovum technology analyst Jan Dawson, they’re currently serving different audiences.

“Facebook is never going to answer your homework questions,” he said.

Making the network’s data easier to search could raise privacy concerns. Facebook noted that search results will display only data already visible to a particular user.

That mitigates some of the concerns, as does Facebook’s recent push to have users review privacy settings on their older posts, said Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The fact that users will have to seek out the information rather than having it automatically displayed also makes a big difference, he said. “It’s not a push — it’s a pull,” he said.

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

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