Reasons to use Facebook Graph Search

January 16, 2013

Facebook’s new Graph Search feature suddenly makes the search bar at the top of its pages — which you were probably ignoring — a lot more interesting.

The updated search function, announced Tuesday, lets users dig through most of the the Facebook data that’s visible to them on the site to answer some simple questions. The company is rolling the feature out slowly, so it’s in a limited beta at the moment. But here are some practical ways in which you can or will be able to use Facebook’s Social Graph:

Look for a bite to eat: The graph allows users to look for places, photos, interests and people. But beyond simply searching for area restaurants that your friends “like,” you can tailor your search to restaurants that have gotten a nod from friends who have also posted on Facebook that they lived in a certain country, like Thai food or are vegetarians.

Help with a career search: Your Facebook network may be bigger than you think, given how much gets shared with friends of friends, and Graph Search lets you sift through all of that data. So, if you’re looking for a job in a particular field or city, you could search for “friends of friends who are lawyers” to find some contacts. You could also look for a particular company name to find a contact there. But etiquette dictates that you ask your mutual friend for permission before sending his or her friend a Facebook message.

Find a date: Company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg highlighted this option in Tuesdays press conference, according to a report from VentureBeat. Since Facebook allows users to post whether they’re married, single, in a relationship or romantically “complicated” entanglements, you could run a query for “friends of friends who are single and like mountain biking.” Voilà -- instant date prospect. This could also prove to be an invaluable tool for busybody matchmakers.

Take a nostalgic look back: Heading down memory lane? Photo searches can reveal pictures of your alma mater within a certain time period. Or you can look for photos that folks have posted of themselves as kids by typing in a search for pictures taken before a certain year. As with other queries, you can stack terms in photo searches, so you could also look for photos of a certain place at a certain time. If you’re ready to go back to the future, you can also get ideas for where to go on your next trip by perusing other people’s vacation snaps.

Find a good read: You can look up books your friends like, or be more specific in your query: “books my friends who like War and Peace like.” You can also use this tool to find books that people in certain professions or areas of the country are reading.

Organize a pickup game: If you’re feeling restless, why not search for friends nearby who like the same sport you do — soccer, basketball, ultimate frisbee, whatever — and organize a quick pickup game. The same goes for users seeking running buddies, biking companions or — why not? — chess partners or fans of the same co-op video game.

Finally, if some of these applications seem a little invasive, you can take measures to limit what data of yours go into social graph search. That could involve spending quite a bit of quality time with the network’s privacy tools.

All the things mentioned above are examples of data that you may be sharing with friends of friends or the public. On Facebook, every post comes with its own privacy drop-down menu, so you can adjust your posts and likes whenever you want to restrict it to certain friends or groups. Only those friends will see that information pop up in any of their own searches.

Facebook users can change settings on their bio and geographical information by editing their “About” section. There’s also has a new drop-down menu at the top of most pages that lets you set future default privacy settings for future posts.

(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Don Graham is a member of Facebook’s Board of Directors.)

Related stories:

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

Facebook introduces social search feature

ComPost: Facebook said, ‘Let there be Graph Search,’ and there was

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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