Last Tuesday, curious journalists finally learned what was hiding behind the mysterious invitation they had received from Facebook, asking them to “come and see what we’re building.” The event, led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, was found to be the unveiling of a new “graph search” bar, which the company had promised would change the site’s user experience for good.
On a Facebook page opened exclusively in order to introduce the new feature, the company wrote that “with graph search, you can look up anything shared with you on Facebook.” So, by typing in the top blue bar on the website, users could search all the people, photos, interests, in their friends lists and networks. As Salvador Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times’ Tech section added, an innovative feature that was introduced into the graph search bar is its ability to show you the direct answers you were looking for, as opposed to links that might be relevant to your search. During the press conference, Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated another characteristic that is bound to change the search bar playing field. Facebook’s search graph can now understand questions that are written in completely natural language, such as “movies my friend likes in 2010” or “my friends who are living in Isla Vista.” This addition means that Facebook, based on our interests and cyber-relationships, could give us results that are far more personalized than any other search engine did up until now.
As with every announcement that has to do with Facebook’s changing capacities, both acclaims and concerns were on the rise following the event. The first matter on line of concerns is the issue of privacy, which sticks to every innovation Facebook introduces into its platform. The fact that other users could now sift through personal information faster and more accurately than ever before seems, as always, very daunting to a growing number of users. John Sileo, author of “Privacy Means Money” and an identity theft prevention expert, went as far as to warn ABC News that “hackers and (Identity) phishers woke up to Christmas morning with all this data.”
In reality, most of us should be more afraid of prospective employers or unwanted stalkers looking through our information. Mashable’s Alex Fitzpatrick explains that while not giving more or less access into your private information, it will allow “people to use Graph Search to find information you have already shared with them.” In other words, the new search tool will likely “float” more of the information you have shared than is visible in your profile right now. Chris Conley, a technology and civil-liberties attorney at ACLU, sums the privacy issue by telling USA Today that “even though (Graph Search) doesn’t reveal information, it makes it easier to find older information you may have on Timeline and don’t want to share.” As an answer to these concerns, Facebook has re-assured that privacy is at the top of its priorities, and that “the search engine will be tweaked to ensure privacy after results from the beta version (which is taking place right now) come in.” All in all, it seems that the new Graph Search feature will not expose anything that we want to keep a secret, yet it’s the things we have already shared on Facebook that we have to worry about.
Leaving privacy concerns aside, advertisers, business analysts and tech junkies alike have been enthusiastic about the new feature. Sterne Agee’s senior analyst, Arvind Bhatia, has raised his estimates of Facebook’s value immediately following Tuesday’s big news. He believes, along with other analysts, that Facebook’s move has “contributed to its longer-term growth opportunity,” through its improvement of user experience and long-term “big revenue opportunity.” Jennifer Van Grove of CNET, an online Tech news source, who is included in the beta testing version of the Graph Search, summed up her experience of the new feature in a couple of simple words: “It is good. Very good.”
Out of all of these different viewpoints on Facebook’s innovation, one thing is sure: the company is not resting on its laurels, and, despite Zuckerberg’s denial, is slated for a media big bang style collision with search-engine giant Google.