Either My Friends Are Truly Upstanding or Facebook Graph Search Is Useless

January 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

Facebook invited me to check out its new Graph Search this weekend and like a complete moron I clicked “sure” or whatever it said. Boom! Just like that my old Facebook nav bar was gone and this fancy new Graph Search bar was there. Forever. No going back. Just like timeline. Oh well. Let’s try it out. Now, the hallmark of any new Facebook feature is that it has to materially make Facebook more intrusive and less privacy friendly. So I wanted to kick it off with a search for something that would really tell me how Facebook-y this new feature really was. Plus, I just wanted to laugh at my friends. I figured with ~2,000 friends most of them under 35 this must at the very least turn up some results. Let’s see.

Search For Pornography on Graph Search

No results? Hmm. I must have some really classy friends. Or Graph Search isn’t very useful. In fact, since it’s entirely based around what your friends have actively “Liked” it’s only as useful as the collective “Likes” of your network. Why did I ever want to search for the things my friends like?

In its promos, Facebook seemed to really like the example of searching for a good restaurant. Isn’t that what Yelp is for and has an incredible database of information on already? Isn’t Yelp already connected to Facebook? And doesn’t TripAdvisor kind of have a lock on the international version of that? Let’s find out.

I’m from Chicago and I have maybe 15-20 friends in New York. If I search for “restaurants my friends have liked in New York” lets see what happens.

Graph Search

The top result is a chain restaurant that has locations in many cities including Chicago. The second result returned by Graph Search has one like. That’s statistical noise. That’s not a definitive answer. Now, Graph Search may get better over time, but it has a long way to go to compete with this similar search on Yelp:

Yelp Search Results

That’s just a sampling, but the top restaurants in New York have hundreds and thousands of reviews. That’s not statistical noise. If I pick a random 5 star restaurant off of that list I’m going to have some confidence that I’m going to get something special. I can also read a few quick reviews to see why people rated this highly and what specifically they liked. A simple like on Facebook conveys none of that nuance. Maybe someone liked a restaurant for a coupon. Maybe they did it as a joke. Who knows. This is Facebook and it’s a site that for at least half of it’s life was filled with a user base that was there to post drunken pictures of their college debauchery and write stupid comments on each others’ walls. That’s what Facebook was designed for. That’s why it thrived. It did so in spite of search functions that worked. Each time it tries to move away from this function it gets more unwieldy.

Also, it’s not wonderful to have to type in “my friends who like” for every search. Searching on Graph Search is a bit like answering a question on Jeopardy. “What is friends who like restaurants in New York City, Alex?” Yuck.

Still, there was one area I figured Graph Search would be really useful. How many times has a friend sent you a video or shared something that you’ve seen in the News Feed and wanted to read later or show a friend two months down the road. At least graph search would help for finding those old posts and status updates faster than scrolling endlessly through timelines.

graph1

Ok fine, maybe that was asking too much. How about this:

graph2

Oh, ok, so graph search really is useless. Doesn’t this lack of functionality annoy the ever loving hell out of the people who work at Facebook? Do they use their service? No status search an incredibly annoying feature (or lack thereof) ever since Facebook introduced the Status Update. They essentially created the worlds most popular micro-blogging system without a search feature and still have yet to implement one. It’s really a wonder that people still put up with it.

It’s almost regression. This is how search was before Google. Remember doing a search for “cows” on Excite or Yahoo! back in the day and the top result would be “Tony’s Pizza”? It wasn’t a surprise that Google won the search war. Their search engine actually found really useful results when it searched. Facebook search is more like Excite. Yuck squared.

Another problem I see with the relevancy of results in Graph Search is that Facebook users have a very serious reason to curtail their liking of pages. Privacy wise this is invasive, but only if you liked some stuff you’d be embarrassed by. From Facebook’s point of view you wouldn’t like something if you didn’t want the whole world to know, right? Now, If I like “Playboy” or “pornography” (maybe as a joke, maybe because I worked there, maybe because I love them) is a potential employer going who does a graph search on me going to be able to make that distinction just by seeing that I liked something? I don’t think so. And so Facebook has just given folks a very good reason to stop liking things. It’s given it’s users a reason to unlike tons of pages. Pages Facebook is simultaneously trying to get to buy ads to guarantee that the people that have liked them actually see their messaging. That’s insanity.

When I signed up for Facebook in 2004 I filled out some interests and those became likes when the like system kicked in. Suddenly, my News Feed was filled with posts by those likes. Any new page I like invades my feed. Thing is, I never really wanted that functionality on Facebook. Facebook was wonderful for info on friends. There are a very select few brands or pages that I want in my News Feed. Any time I click like on something now I most likely change the settings so that I only see “Important Updates” or, more commonly, I uncheck “Show In News Feed” and simply banish the page from my feed entirely. Why? Because, while I may like Vans Shoes, I don’t want to hear about them every day.

All of this also begs the question: where is the value in using your real name or identity on social media? Facebook was beautiful because it did away with AOL Screenames and MySpace names and replaced them with real names. You could find your friends and not have to know that they went my XOXOCheerGirl5183. I think Facebook has proved once and for all that you really do want to go by something other than your real name online. (That is unless you’ve never like something potentially embarrassing or taken a crazy photo, then by all means Commander Boring use your real name. Though Commander Boring is a great option if I just made you paranoid.)

The last useless thing that Graph Search does is force you into a box. Google doesn’t correct or guide me when I type. I will suggest in the results that I try something else, but if I really want to search for something, I can. Here’s what happened when I searched for “my friends who like Nazis”:
graph1

Now, I’m not for anyone liking Nazis, but why can’t I search for it? Why does the search correct to this every time? It does this because Facebook is really just a big psych experiment to see how far it can push its users before they jump ship. So far, I’m pretty impressed at folks’ desire for punishment when a perfectly elegant Google+ sits pretty much unused.

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