Facebook has created an information page that gives users a sneak preview of how Graph Search works and allows them to conduct a sample search. It is intended to help users find "more of what [they are] looking for through [their] friends and connections."
Graph Search works much like the social search features in Microsoft's Bing, providing information gathered from what a user's friends have made public on their Facebook pages. Search results may also include data collected from people who have friends in common, but who don't have direct connections with the user.
According to Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek, "Although Graph Search isn't a direct competitor to Google Search, it represents a competitive threat nonetheless. It makes Facebook more useful to users, who might then be less likely to look beyond Facebook for information.
"It also challenges Google by expanding Facebook's relationship with Microsoft Bing, which will be providing Web search results to queries submitted through Facebook when Facebook doesn't have an answer."
On January 15, Jennifer Van Grove of CNET described how somebody might use Graph Search.
According to Van Grove, "... with Graph Search, Facebook didn't just release a standard search experience, it created an entirely new use case for the social network: discovery.
"Yes, Graph Search is about discovering things you've probably felt entitled to finding on a social network where you go to share memories and milestones. Facebook finally has you covered in the remembering department, at least around old photos and visited places. Sadly, you won't be able to surface old status updates or rummage through real actions (like music-listening activity) for the time being.
"Discovery through Graph Search, however, gets really interesting when you think about the ways you can find content in and beyond your own network. Track down photos from last year's Olympic Games. Riffle through a list of Facebook members who live near you and work at your company or a competing one. Zero in on nearby vegan restaurants popular among friends. Then, simply refine as you see fit. Limit your results to items liked by or visited by a select person, for instance."
Facebook users in the greater Spokane area tend to be extremely concerned about their privacy. Considering that there is currently no way to opt out from Graph Search, this may cause some people in the community to either stop using Facebook or begin using new privacy features to restrict what other people can see.
Fortunately, Meghan Kelly of Venturebeat explained some of the things people can do to protect their privacy.
According to Kelly, "As we all saw with Facebook’s last round of privacy changes, when you 'delete' something off your Timeline, it’s not actually deleted. So, how do you make sure that something is really, truly gone? Use the Activity Log.
"... The Activity Log shows you all of the things you’ve done on any given day and allows you to either change the privacy setting of that 'activity' or delete it once and for all. It is organized into content categories such as your posts, posts you’re tagged in, posts by others (on your Timeline), photos, likes, comments, things on your About page, friends, notes, games, and a ton more.
"... Activity Log will also break some of these categories down into what you’ve posted and what has been posted by a friend. If you don’t like what your buddy has posted, it gives you avenues to ask that friend to remove content. If the content is yours, you can click a drop down menu to the right of the piece of content and click delete.
"Then it is gone, and it is not searchable."
Claburn suggested that Graph Search may have benefits for people who are concerned about their privacy. However, it may also have drawbacks for people who make all of their activity private.
According to Claburn, "Graph Search might improve privacy for Facebook users because it brings new privacy tools to help people understand who can view the content they've shared and to restrict access to that content.
"For example, Facebook is providing a way to untag photos in which you have been tagged, along with a way to contact people who have tagged you in their photos to request a photo's removal.
"At the same time, the availability of Graph Search could make privacy more of a liability. It might encourage Facebook users to share more information about themselves and their affinities, in order to make social search more useful for their friends and for themselves. Being invisible on Facebook could impose an opportunity cost."
Claburn compared Graph Search to how recruiters look for potential employees on LinkedIn. It is possible that people in the Spokane area might miss out on business opportunities or a new job because they decided to make most of their activity private.
"If recruiting through Facebook becomes popular, as it is on social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook users might feel pressure to disclose more information about their accomplishments and past employment in order to increase their visibility to those who might be hiring," Claburn said.
Although Graph Search is clearly intended as a fun way to connect more with other Facebook users while looking for useful information, people who want to keep most of their personal information private will be facing some tough decisions in the months ahead.
Leaving Facebook may not be the best option for people who regularly use their Facebook log-ins for other websites or use their pages to keep in touch with friends and family.
Limiting access to everything in their activity logs could have unforseen consequences. However, making a lot of content public could be bad too if someone's page features inappropriate photos from last year's Christmas party or other things that might make a bad first impression.
Facebook users in the Spokane community are going to have to figure out for themselves how transparent they want to be to the approximately one billion people who might stumble across them in search results.
Fortunately, Graph Search is still only available to a limited number of users so that gives people time to take control of their content and maybe get rid of that picture of Uncle Al in the hula skirt.