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How to use Facebook's Graph Search (and why you would even want to)

Caitlin McGarry | July 16, 2013
Facebook's Graph Search—the social network's so-called third pillar—rolled out to all American users last week.

Facebook in January trumpeted Graph Search as the social network's "third pillar" (pillars one and two are Timeline and News Feed), which sounds very impressive and important, but few people have been able to experiment with the tool until now. Last week, the beta of Graph Search finally began rolling out to U.S. users, which means you too can try out the seven-month-old feature. Good news: It's not just for being a creeper. Bad news: Its usefulness is limited. For now.

What's Graph Search good for, anyway?
Graph Search seems like a great idea in theory. Facebook has collected billions, maybe trillions of pieces of data about its users over the last nine years, and making that data searchable is a natural move.

Graph Search isn't turned on automatically, so your first step is activating the new feature in the search bar. Facebook will walk you through it. Once Graph Search is on, Facebook prompts you to "search for people, places, and things." Start typing. Graph Search is supposed to recognize natural language and try to guess what you're looking for, though that feature is hit or miss at the moment. You'll quickly learn the phrases that will help you get to some sort of result: "Friends who listen to Daft Punk and live in San Francisco" or "Friends of my friends who work at TechHive." It's not exactly a conversational way to search.

Right now, Graph Search is another in a long line of Facebook features designed to suck up your time and productivity. Case in point: photos. A search for photos of my friends who live in San Francisco turns up hundreds of photos dating back years, some of which have been removed from my friends' Timelines but remain easily viewable thanks to Graph Search. This feature can be useful: I searched for photos of my friends who visited Hawaii, because I just returned from a trip to Oahu and wanted to see their photos of the islands. But it also gives you the ability to search for incriminating photos of your ex, or for others to find terrible photos of you. Dislike.

Better results
In a promotional video, Facebook hypes Graph Search as a great way to find a dentist when you move to a new city. I highly doubt many people are checking in at their dentist's office or liking their dentist's page on Facebook. (If their dentist even has a page on Facebook.) This is what Yelp is for. Facebook could add a Yelp-like review element so your friends could offer recommendations for specific dentists. If you're looking for a new restaurant, your friends could offer Facebook tips on dishes to order that would turn up in a search for "food my friends in San Francisco recommend." That would be much more useful.

 

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