Facebook has announced a major addition to its social network – a smart search engine it has called Graph Search.The feature allows users to make “natural” searches of content shared by their friends.
Search terms could include phrases such as “friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter”.
Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg insisted it was not a web search, and therefore not a direct challenge to Google- however, it was integrating Microsoft’s Bing search engine for situations when graph search itself could not find answers.
Mr Zuckerberg said he “did not expect” people to start flocking to Facebook to do web search.
“That isn’t the intent,” he said. “But in the event you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s really nice to have this.”
Earlier speculation had suggested that the world’s biggest social network was about to make a long anticipated foray into Google’s search territory.
“We’re not indexing the web,” explained Mr Zuckerberg at an event at Facebook’s headquarters in California.
“We’re indexing our map of the graph – the graph is really big and its constantly changing.”
In Facebook’s terms, the social graph is the name given to the collective pool of information shared between friends that are connected via the site.
It includes things such as photos, status updates, location data as well as the things they have “liked”.
Until now, Facebook’s search had been highly criticised for being limited and ineffective.
The company’s revamped search was demonstrated to be significantly more powerful. In one demo, Facebook developer Tom Stocky showed a search for queries such as “friends of friends who are single in San Francisco”.
The same technology could be used for recruitment, he suggested, using graph search to find people who fit criteria for certain jobs – as well as mutual connections.
Such queries are a key function of LinkedIn, the current dominant network for establishing professional connections.
“We look at Facebook as a big social database,” said Mr Zuckerberg, adding that social search was Facebook’s “third pillar” and stood beside the news feed and timeline as the foundational elements of the social network.
Perhaps mindful of privacy concerns highlighted by recent misfires on policies for its other services such as Instagram, Facebook stressed that it had put limits on the search system.