Users of Facebook will soon have a new search tool at their disposal, the leaders of the company announced Tuesday during a live event. The new Graph Search feature will let those on Facebook sift through photos, people, places, and business pages.
The new search ability will join Facebook users' newsfeed and timeline as "pillars" of their experience, said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who predicted Graph Search would become an "amazing resource."
As for what that resource might help users accomplish, Facebook offered several examples Tuesday, ranging from finding people who like cycling in Seattle, Wash., to looking for a restaurant your friends liked in a certain area — the idea being that Graph Search refines results by combining different attributes.
The service is being introduced in English-language markets first, with a limited number of users using a beta version of the feature. Writing for USA Today, Jon Swartz reports that "Zuckerberg says hundreds, maybe thousands, will initially get Graph Search."
The new feature's name comes from the social network's Graph API, which handles data transfers between Facebook and third-party software such as apps and widgets. And the company is predicting new growth in what kind of data its users share.
As NPR's Laura Sydell tweeted during the announcement, "Facebook says people will put more of their interests on Facebook" if they know their friends are looking for information about what they like, from music and movies to food and services. After the unveiling, shares of user-review site Yelp fell by 8 percent.
Facebook's announcement that it would make it easier to mine for data and photos is sure to raise some privacy concerns among its users. The company sought to address those worries Tuesday, saying that Graph Search will respect the same privacy settings that already limit the visibility of its members' pages.
"Everyone on Facebook who isn't blocked by you can search for you, but what they can see in search results about you depends on what's shared with them," according to a special page created to explain "How Privacy Works with Graph Search."
The page includes a link that allows users to review their Activity Log, which compiles the likes, status updates, photo uploads and other items that define a person's presence on Facebook.
"Most people today don't think about Facebook as a place to discover places where they could go eat, or things that they could go do," Zuckerberg said in a video introducing the new feature. "But with this product, it's so natural to be able to do that."
It may now also be natural, many observers noted Tuesday, to help Facebook strengthen its hold in the search advertising market, which Google has long dominated. The new feature is seen as a way for the social media network to build on the "Sponsored" advertising slots it began selling in 2012, which placed ads with search results.
The Graph Search tool was created internally at Facebook, leading some to speculate that Bing, which has played a Web-search role on the social media service, might be cut out of the picture. But the plan announced Tuesday calls for Bing to present results from the Web when a user's Facebook search comes up empty.
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