facebook unveils graph searchYesterday Facebook unveiled Graph Search, which lets users find people, places and information based on their connections. This is interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily due to the fact that, unlike search engines, Facebook’s Graph Search is designed to immediately serve up answers.

“Graph Search and web search are very different,” said Facebook in a statement. “Web search is designed to take a set of keywords (for example: ‘hip hop’) and provide the best possible results that match those keywords. With Graph Search you combine phrases (for example: ‘my friends in New York who like Jay-Z’) to get that set of people, places, photos or other content that’s been shared on Facebook. We believe they have very different uses.” Think beyond your own personal set of friends and uses for Facebook and imagine the possibilities here for brands.

News that Facebook and Bing had teamed up immediately sparked reports of Facebook taking on search giant Google, but dig a little deeper and it appears that, although Facebook and Bing are working together, Microsoft isn’t the power behind the new search functionality.

Once Graph Search becomes widely available, here’s a look at what you’ll be able to do:

  • Search for friends by where they live, where they work and who they’re friends with
  • Search for photos of friends based on where they were taken, how many likes/comments they have and when they were taken
  • Search for local businesses based on where your friends have gone. Plus, you can refine your search results by place type, who liked it, places in or visited by.

Some of this creeps me out a little as a person, but as a marketer, I can see where brands would be excited about this. Which also creeps me out a little as a consumer.

My smart friend David Jones, a strategist at Toronto’s Blast Radius, not only has really great hair, he’s pretty good at explaining this. Check out the deck embedded below for a quick and easy overview of these new changes:

Facebook Graph Search – Implications for Brand Pages from David Jones

Like everyone who works in the digital space, we’ve all been interested by the unfolding Graph Search coverage. The range of reactions have been intriguing—everything from disinterest and blatant dislike, as seen in the comment thread on this CNET article, to awe, as captured in Steven Levy’s piece for Wired:

“But Zuckerberg was testing a major new feature that Facebook would announce on Jan. 15—one that promises to transform its user experience, threaten its competitors and torment privacy activists,” Levy writes.

And here are a couple of interesting comments from the CNET community:

“So this whole search thing is dependent upon three things: 1) Having a giant list of fb friends, 2) that giant list of fb friends having very open privacy settings, and 3) that giant list of friends with open privacy settings having well-maintained profile and picture data. Isn’t the trend to share less and protect your privacy more? In which case, this search will become less relevant with time unless fb makes all data public for search purposes, or the trend reverses and people start sharing more,” writes jchanski21.

Adds sjohnson011, “It’s probably too early to tell how much of an impact this will make. It has the potential to change the way people search for information.

And I understand the importance of making a splash in the world of social media — especially for a publicly traded company.

But, if you call a press conference for a special announcement, make sure your reveal is newsworthy. Otherwise you’re just drawing attention to the fact that you are running out of innovative ideas. This is what happened with Apple and the iPhone 5. A mediocre product is not something to brag about.”

Facebook search has long been dismissed as one of the least functional features of the site—and no matter how you feel about it, Graph Search appears poised to dramatically change not just the Facebook search experience, but how people use the site to discover information like local business recommendations, dates or even prospective employees.

This could have a huge impact on local businesses and local search and could potentially pose a very real threat to platforms like Foursquare, Yelp, TripAdvisor and the like. Think about how many times you’ve asked your Facebook friends for a recommendation on a service provider or restaurant or something similar. Also think about the information you’re seeking as you’re using Yelp or TripAdvisor and consider the impact if you could get similar information quickly and easily from Facebook.

It wasn’t at all surprising that Yelp’s stock dropped yesterday following Facebook’s announcement. Some people suspect this is going to have an impact on Google, but I don’t really see this as the “Google killer” that many are discussing. With Graph Search, you’ll be able to channel the collective power of your Facebook connections, giving you a new set of information that’s personalized to you but I imagine there are still going to be millions of Google searches taking place at the same time. As mentioned earlier, however, for businesses, this probably makes the business of community building on Facebook even more critical.

Graph Search could also have a huge impact on businesses who’ve built their businesses offerings around scraping Facebook’s data and providing it as part of a social media monitoring toolset, and it’s not unlikely that that’s another reason Facebook is developing this functionality. I imagine there might be some monetization opportunities there—what do you think?

Personally, I’m always loathe to put all my eggs into any one online basket, so I’d be less likely to rely on Facebook to serve up search results than I would the Yelp community or Foursquare or an SMM tool that’s not Facebook–but that’s just me. I have what I like to think is a healthy distrust of all social platforms, so it’s always a goal to spread out my reliance on them a bit whenever possible.

Graph Search is currently in beta, but is expected to roll out to U.S. Facebook users some time this year. Ever the pragmatist, I hate to form an opinion until I can actually use the new search functionality—and if you, like me, are interested in queuing up for a first look, be sure to get on the waiting list.

What’s your take on Graph Search? Game changer or just another over-hyped announcement?