Facebook Graph Search: stalking 2.0

With 1 billion users, 240 billion photos and 1 trillion connections, Facebook is a treasure trove of data just waiting to be mined by you, me and the mega-conglomerate down the road. Early this morning (AEST), Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg introduced a new product—Graph Search.

Graph Search is like a search on steroids. It allows you to combine variables in ways that weren’t previously possible on Facebook. Any useful bit of information that is publicly available or available to you as a friend can be searched on in meaningful combinations.

At my day job, I work on a large piece of software that manages masses of data. Key to the software’s functionality is doing exactly what Graph Search intends to do… except it doesn’t have to manage 1 billion users and all their connections. Regardless, I can assure you, this kind of searching is very difficult stuff to implement.

Unfortunately, TheVine’s budget doesn’t stretch to Menlo Park, California, so I’m drawing from and quoting the ArsTechnica live feed today.

People search

The Facebook team pushed plain language search terms such as, “friends who like…”. An example given was, “people named Chris who are friends of Lars Rasmussen and went to Stanford.” Facebook is all about stalking these days. Potential employers do it. Here’s another example given by the Facebook team:

“Let's say I'm recruiting for Facebook. Let's say I want to recruit people from NASA.” Done. LinkedIn should be a bit concerned.

Hmmm… let's try: Friends of friends who are single men and like Lady Gaga or Cher—BOOM! ALL THE GAYS.

Photos

Graph Search also lets you search for photos. Imagine you are planning a trip to Paris: “… Photos of my friends taken in Paris.” There’s a useful search. You can find all your friends who’ve been there (and recorded it and made it searchable) so you can hit them up for advice. You could do this over dinner—but Graph Search allows you do it in bulk.

“I suspect that people are going to use [Graph Search] to find photos of people they care about.” Translation: people they want to sleep with.

Cue Sigur Rós and good-looking multi-cultural people having fun

Where’s this going?

“Friends who like Predator (1987) and Thin Red Line (1996).” I’d probably marry these people.

How about: “People who like Obama, live in Washington State, ride a fixie and also smoke weed?” BOOM! ALL THE LIBERALS.

It’s called data mining… only, data mining is usually reserved for reporting analysts, hackers and generally people paid to do it. Now, any mofo can mine data—at least on a small scale. Here’s an example of a public search that the Facebook guys gave: “Photos of Berlin, Germany from 1989.” In other words, “show me photos of real things with real connections to real people.” Sure, you can do this search on Flickr, but the amount of information about the author on Flickr is scant.

Graph Search’s functionality is different, not because you can’t do it on other sites; it’s different because Facebook equates to real people. Sure, there’s a margin of error where people bullshit about what they do or like. But, there are 1 billion of us on FB now. Smart folk can make assumptions about that margin of error/bullshit. And what they’re left with is some extremely valuable data.

In the broader community, if only 1-percent of users (and that’s me being conservative) publicly share just one photograph of themselves at McDonalds—that’s 10,000,000 photos of real people eating McDonalds around the world. That search could spawn a digital ad campaign within Facebook.

It would be easy for a drinks company to search for uni students, locally, during exams and pitch ads at them: It’s after midnight and you’re probably cramming for your exam right now—time for a Red Bull?

Additionally, Facebook is trialing paid messaging where anyone can send a message directly to your Facebook inbox for a fee (currently $1, unless your name is Mark Zuckerberg). The upside of this feature is that any dick or spammer isn’t going to waste a dollar to harass you… unless they’re really keen on you. Of course, recruiters may want to spend that dollar to head hunt you. How they’ll find you is now made easy: People employed at Company-X; studied at University-Y; graduated with Degree-Z; live in Melbourne. Actually, LinkedIn you should be very afraid.

Privacy

Facebook are taking privacy seriously. It featured prominently in their presentation—they’ve learned from their mistakes. To prove how devoted Facebook is to privacy, Zuckerberg stated, “across our data centers, 10% of our computing power is spent on privacy checks.” Teraflops of privacy!

Regarding Facebook’s new partnership with Microsoft’s Bing (that was Zuckerberg’s “one last thing”… hardly a new iPad): “It's going to take years and years to index the whole Graph [on Bing]… we want to index all of the posts, and all of the content on Facebook.” Translation: unless you tighten your privacy/exit Facebook, all of the stupid things you said and posted to Facebook could be searchable on Bing.

But if you’re concerned, fear not. Facebook will provide tools to help, straight off the bat: “We built a few tools so you can see all of the photos that people will be able to see tagged of you. You can bulk untag, bulk set privacy settings.”

Here's Zuckerberg and friends selling it. I need a green wall in my campus office. I need a campus.

Value

It should already be clear who Graph Search is valuable to. It is valuable to you and I because we need to stalk that hottie on the train, who wears the name tag “Alex” on their Office Works uniform and has been reading ‘The Hobbit’ during their commute for the last few days.

But it’s even more valuable to advertisers who can zero in on target audiences. Perhaps, they might also run campaigns on sub cultures; specific groups that like very specific things. They can find you.

Setting sail

CEOs don’t publically drop statements to fill in time. They’re often carefully meted ‘tips of the iceberg’. This from Mark Zuckerberg: “I think that [Graph Search] potentially could be a business over time.” Followed later by, “it's fair to say that our road map for the next few years is set.”

Anyone who downplays the significance of Graph Search is either very stupid or deceiving you.

Facebook Graph Search is presently in limited beta. Sign up today—fools:

facebook.com/graphsearch

profile of Chuck Kolyvas