Facebook has launched a social search functionality that will be embedded in the social networking site.
The social network, which boasts one billion members, 240 billion photos and one trillion connections, will enable users to “naturally” search through people, photos, interests and places, using a search functionality called Graph Search.
Graph Search will enable users to filter content on Facebook to find out particular things, such as which nearby restaurants their friends have liked or which friends like a certain movie, or to search for photos including selected people.
Facebook will then order answers depending on the number of "likes" or the level of a user’s interaction with their chosen person, place or photograph, placing more familiar links at the top of the search results.
While Graph Search is not a web search like Google, Facebook has partnered with Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, to enable users to search the internet when Facebook fails to find an answer.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg does not expect people to use Graph Search as a dedicated web search option, "but in the event you can't find what you're looking for, it's really nice to have this”, he said at a conference in California.
In time, businesses may be able to capitalise on this search function through the inclusion of advertisements.
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“You build good businesses over time, by people wanting to use something,” said Zuckerberg. “Sponsored ads extend quite nicely to Graph Search, but there is nothing new for this.”
Still in beta, Graph Search will be rolled out to a “very small audience” from 16 January. The company will collect feedback from users before rolling out to a wider audience. Graph Search will also go through tests before being available on mobile devices.
Facebook speakers, including Zuckerberg, stressed the importance of privacy during the Graph Search launch, explaining that users could only find information from those they are connected to, or from users who choose to share content publicly.
Facebook has faced criticism over its privacy policies and settings in the past, and in December 2012 announced plans to make changes to its privacy controls to make it easier to manage settings and enable users to review every publicly available image.
More recently, the German state of Schleswig-Holstein claimed that Facebook is violating local privacy laws by not allowing users of the social network to use pseudonyms, threatening the social network with a €20,000 fine. Facebook responded in a statement that the case was without merit and a waste of German taxpayers' money and that the company would fight it vigorously.