Looking for a reason to spend more time on Facebook? CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his crew of social-software gurus are convinced their new Graph Search function is just what you need.
Zuckerberg has touted Graph Search as a "third pillar" of the popular social networking service -- as important to the Facebook experience as Timeline or News Feed, the two main pages where users can find their own posts and a daily stream of updates from friends. For many Facebook users, however, the new feature will take some getting used to.
That's because Graph Search works differently from Google (GOOG) or Bing, the search engines that most people use to tap the wisdom of the Web. It isn't built to search the entire Internet, and it won't answer all of your questions. But it lets you explore more aspects of your own social circles, as well as some unexpected corners of the online world, as I discovered while trying it over several days.
It does that by emphasizing results that are linked to your friends, while promising to respect users' privacy preferences. (Facebook members may be surprised at how easy it is for others to find them, however. More on that below.) Rather than search the whole Web, Graph Search sorts through photos that have been uploaded to Facebook, people who have profiles on Facebook and artists or businesses that have created pages on Facebook. It will likely do more in the future, but it's limited today.
A few days after I registered -- Facebook is introducing the service gradually to users who sign up for a beta test -- I found a new blue bar at the top of my Facebook Timeline, inviting me to "Search for people, places and things." Once I clicked on the bar, it suggested categories such as "Photos of my friends," "Restaurants nearby," "Music my friends like" and "Photos I have liked."
That seems pretty straight-forward, but you can build on those suggestions by typing other phrases. Facebook designed the software to process phrases, not just keywords, so you can narrow or widen a search by typing more criteria, such as "Photos taken by friends in San Jose, California before 1999" or "Restaurants in Palo Alto that my friends like."