I was able to access Facebook's Graph Search a couple of days ago and I've been testing it out ever since.
The Graph Search bar on Facebook has replaced my old search bar and now occupies a prominent place on the top tab of my Facebook homepage; the notifications, messages, friend requests tab are now on the right. The new design is giving Graph Search a lot more prominence and I'm not surprised, given Zuckerberg has called this the third pillar of the site at the launch.
Design changes aside, Graph Search now lets me search according to Photos, People, Places and Interests/Likes on the social networking site. In short I can now type Photos of friend X in 2006 and get the relevant results if any. As Zuckerberg emphasised Graph Search is not web search and terms for which there are no Facebook results, the search will display Bing results.
So what has the experience of using Graph Search been like? Well, the first issue on my mind was how it dealt with privacy. Facebook has tried to assure users that Graph Search won't circumvent their privacy settings, but the truth is that privacy settings on the site are often complex and confusing. You might hide a picture on your Timeline but if someone else is tagged in it or someone else put up that picture, it will be visible on other people's Newsfeeds.
So with Graph Search too, the results depend on not just likes and comments, but also privacy settings of your friends and yourself. For instance I could find photos of two of my friends, who had no clue they were tagged in these photos. Nor had I seen these photos in their Timeline before because it was shared by a non-common friend. The fact that Graph Search showed those results proves that hiding photos from Timeline was clearly not enough.
In short, Facebook's Graph Search is stalker gold. If your friends have terrible privacy settings and like to tag, check places, etc every time they post a picture on Facebook, chances are those pictures will show up in other people's Graph Search results.
If you search for a restaurant, Graph Search shows results based on likes and tags. Disturbingly it also shows photos of random people at a particular restaurant/place even if you are not friends with them when you click on the photos tab in the results. This is because their photos are marked to public and they have tagged themselves at that particular place.
So yes with Graph Search coming in, the time to review your privacy settings is NOW.
So is Graph Search all that relevant to a Facebook user? Well as someone who's been using the site for more than five years, I would say yes. With the NewsFeed becoming increasingly complex and often inundated with 'sponsored stories', I often find myself missing out on photos or life-events that people share on the site. Let's face it, our Facebook friends do put out a lot of personal information that we would like to keep track of. For instance, if you find that you missed a friend's wedding photos, Graph Search lets you find it easily.
I found myself searching for restaurants, books, television shows liked by my friends and in most case the results were based on their Page likes. If your friends have say, liked a restaurant and shared photos of themselves tagged at that particular place Graph Search will also let you look at those separately.
But I feel that the relevance of Graph Search is also limited as it hopes to give results based on your so-called network of Facebook friends. And while social search sounds exciting, the point is that you might not really go browsing for 'Television shows my friends like' - or perhaps you would if you've liked that friend's recommendations. My guess is, as is typical of Facebook users, that Graph Search would be used a lot for photos. It's always about photos.
Graph Search caters to a closed network. You're not really browsing the web, you're browsing Facebook in a more refined and accurate way. Ultimately how much you use Graph Search, will boil down to how much and the manner in which you use Facebook.
How accurate is Graph Search? In terms of a product that is defined as beta, I would say Graph Search still needs a lot of work. For instance when I search for photos of dogs put up by a friend, the search asked me to specify if I meant Dog the animal. But while this was helpful, it failed to get pictures of my friend's dog/dogs. The lack of results could be also be because the friend hadn't given the right caption. Which brings us back to problem of a closed network. The results can never be generic if your friends say tag pictures of their dogs as 'my baby'.
Finding the right key word while searching on Facebook will always be a problem because this is a social network. People have their own quirky ways of sharing, own style of spelling etc.
Nor does Graph Search let you search for Facebook posts and status messages yet so if you were thinking of re-living and hunting for those comment wars, you'll have to wait.
Will Graph Search change Facebook radically? In the case of Photos search, I would say yes. For searches based on restaurants, television shows, I'm not so convinced. Although it would be useful for those who are trying to date someone they just met - to find out more about their tastes.
How much of an impact Graph Search has on the site will be only be accurately determined once the product is rolled out to more people. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for a social search are the 1 billion Facebook users. Results will only be based on how much and what they are willing to share, which at times might be too little.