Our busy friends at Facebook rolled out their Graph Search to us U.S. English speakers today. Always one to have a go, I sat down and tried to make sense out of it. So far… not so good. I’m pretty sure I have lamented the awful (Bing powered) search on Facebook several times over the past months. Given the astronomical number of page views they get, not providing their users with a terrific search experience always struck me as at best careless… at worse perverse. So it was with some interest that I tried it out today. I should preface this review with the observation that I’m not a huge fan of all things social media. It’s not that I don’t see the value (especially as a potential advertising platform), it’s just that I’m personally not particularly social and frankly could care less about the activities and thoughts of folks I may know (perhaps only vaguely). I have about 170 “friends’ on Facebook which puts me a tad under the average (190), but not embarrassingly so, and I think I may have posted perhaps five times in my entire history. Conversely I have about 1,200 contacts on LinkedIn. In any event the new “Graph Search” is based on the assumption that the people you know may well have an answer for what you are looking for. That might be OK for things that people you might know may have experience of (like restaurants, hair salons and plumbers), but is much less useful for questions like “best picture nominees in 2012″ and “what time is sunset” both of which Google or even Siri do a better job with.
Not to be put off by something as obvious as the entire idea soundings flawed from the get go, I put a towel over my head and tried to figure it out. First I figured l would try a couple of queries which people I knew might know about. There is a new Kabob place opening in town so I tried “Greek Restaurant” and Facebook duly produced a reasonable set of results for restaurants which have Facebook pages with options to sort by things like Restaurants liked by my friends, family, specific individuals or towns. Not surprisingly the moment I filtered by “My friends” the list got a lot shorter and less useful, as many of those friends don’t live near me. In comparison to my normal weapon of choice, Yelp was a pretty feeble experience and lacked the kind of features and reviews we have come to expect. No disrespect to my friends but I’d rather read ten reviews on Yelp than trust a like or two from folks who may, or may not know, what they are talking about. If you add in the fact that so many places ask for likes, or offer them in exchange for some kind of discount, I’m not sure I’d believe it even if they were liked by one of my friends. Similarly the query “Hair Salon” yielded a set of local locations, but when I filtered by “friends” the results fell apart, I have a lot of friends on the east coast so their opinion is much less interesting… it did point out that my niece likes a place near her… in the UK. To take the search away from very social areas, I tried “Pool table repair”. Although I didn’t specify a location, Facebook knows where I live and can look up my IP address. The result was frankly, feeble; it had no local content and had little if any actionable results… certainly if I were looking to repair a pool table… I’d be back on Google in a hear beat. At that point I gave up.
To put it politely, it doesn’t appear to be entirely “ready for prime time” and although I’m probably not a great use case for it, the results I was getting were patchy at best and seemed to over rely on businesses already heavily engaged in Facebook. In many (if not most) cases, folks in my limited Facebook world won’t have a useful contribution to make. Where they do, I get that including them in the mix like Google is threatening to do with Google+ makes some kind of sense. The rest of the time you are stuck with the (still) awful standard Bing powered Facebook search.
If you listen carefully, you can hear the sigh of relief coming out of Mountain View.