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Facebook takes on Google with new search function

Posting in Cities

Tuesday, Facebook announced that it is launching a new product that takes aim at rival Google's main turf: search.

Called Graph Search, Facebook's new tool (in beta now with a waiting list) will enable users to do searches of their friends' profiles in order to find, say, which tourist attractions in France their friends have visited.

Here's a breakdown of how it will work and what's at stake:

How Facebook Graph will work

The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook Graph will allow you to find things that are public on Facebook, or that have been shared with you by your friends. At first, the tool will focus on four main areas:

  • People, i.e. People who live in the same city, friends of friends who are single, male and live in San Francisco, doctors who live in New York.
  • Photos, i.e. Photos you've “liked,” photos of your family, photos of your friends from the 1990s.
  • Places, i.e. Cities your friends have been to, Chinese restaurants in your city, galleries in New York liked by photographers.
  • Interests, i.e. Music that your friends like, books read by authors, languages your friends speak.

If you search for something that isn't on Facebook, the search will offer results from Bing. Facebook hinted that in the future, Graph would offer even more ways to search.

How it compares to Google

Google's advantage is that it has indexed 30 trillion unique Web pages across 230 million sites, according to the Journal. It's also improved its search results in the last year by displaying information and photos about the subject searched without users having to click through to links.

Additionally, it launched its social networking site, Google+, in order to collect the kind of personal data about users that Facebook has. Now, users of Google who search a topic that their Google+ friends have commented upon will also see that information in their results. However, the Journal says:

But Facebook has a far larger social network and a sizable head-start after spending years encouraging its members to add photos and all sorts of personal information to their profiles, from basic data like location, employer name and interests to more sensitive details such as age, religion and romantic status.

For this reason, the searches between the two sites will differ in one crucial way: a Google search will yield results of what's out on the Web in general. So, searching for a new movie to watch will help you find a movie that the general public knows about.

Searching on Facebook for a movie, however, will instead pull up a movie that many of your friends like, regardless of how obscure it is. It elevates the opinion of your friends over that of the general public.

For this reason, Facebook Graph is expected to disrupt the businesses of other companies, such as Yelp, which helps people search for restaurants and other local businesses, or LinkedIn, which helps people search for business connections.

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via: The Wall Street Journal

— By on January 15, 2013, 11:01 AM PST

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure