Now that Facebook has amassed more than a billion users, the social pioneer is bringing natural, real-time search functionality to its platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Graph Search at the company's new headquarters in Menlo Park, California, today, calling it the third pillar of the Facebook product ecosystem.
"We imagine that every screen of the Facebook product is a query," he said. "Most other structured search products heavily rely on filters... We came up with something that we thought was a lot more natural."
The decidedly beta feature will begin rolling out to users today, focusing on four primary use cases and connections on Facebook -- people, photos, interests and places. Graph Search is different, he said, because it is designed to direct users to answers, not just results.
Facebook developers have been mapping data in the social graph for at least a year to get to this point, and company executives admit they have a long way to go. "Indexing all this content and making it so you can retrieve instantaneously is a really hard problem we've been working on a while," Zuckerberg said. "It's going to take years to map out the graph and everything that's out there," he continued. "This is really a beta of v1. We have years and years of work ahead of us."
Facebook has no immediate plans to release an API for Graph Search and it declined to say when it might reach mobile devices where most people already access Facebook today.
Indeed, the early response to Facebook's Graph Search is as much about what it can't or doesn't do yet as what it does. "There's so many more things that we want to get to," Zuckerberg added. "It's fair to say that our roadmap for the next few years is very well set."
On stage, Facebook demonstrated an array of new search queries that can be entered directly in the top search bar of the site. A simple search for friends can easily be morphed into "friends who like Star Wars," "movies my friends like," "photos of me and (friend)," "photos of my friends taken in National Parks," or even "friends of friends who are single and who are from India."
To demonstrate the recruitment potential of Graph Search on Facebook, the company highlighted results from more detailed searches like "NASA Ames Research Center employees who are friends of Facebook employees" and "people who have been product managers and who have been founders."
Graph Search will begin rolling out in limited beta today to hundreds or thousands of Facebook users, with plans to roll-out broadly in the coming weeks.
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Matt Kapko has been writing about mobile since 2006, before it became cool. Based in Long Beach, CA, he has covered mobile entertainment, digital media, marketing, and advertising for several business media outlets. A former editor and reporter for RCR Wireless News, paidContent, and iMedia Connection, Matt is a regular freelance reporter for ClickZ. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattKapko or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.