Photo: Owen Thomas, Business Insider
So what will Graph Search actually do to the way we use Facebook?One of the funnier moments during Facebook’s demonstration yesterday of Graph Search, its new search tool, was when the engineers behind the project puckishly displayed a baby picture of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
It is a very good example of the kind of thing that will get people worked up about Graph Search.
The photo in question is friends-only. So anyone who couldn’t see the photo before Graph Search won’t be able to see it because of Graph Search.
“There actually isn’t any information being exposed in this that wasn’t already available on Facebook in certain ways,” Facebook product director Sam Lessin told Wired.
But the laborious process of visiting a friend’s profile page, scrolling down through the years, and plucking out a particular photo among hundreds just wasn’t practical before.
Facebook had the same issue with News Feed, its personalised river of updates from friends and pages, and Timeline, a redesigned profile page that made it easier to see a friend’s history, when those were introduced.
Hence the extreme caution with which Facebook is rolling out Graph Search. While the slow rollout may frustrate pundits looking for an iPhone-like product release, Facebook is hoping that it will get ahead of user protests.
We don’t think most ordinary Facebook users will take notice of Graph Search because of some formal announcement, though. It will spread virally, like the rumours about Instagram selling photos, through Facebook itself, with people sharing stories about the humiliating sense of exposure they felt when some old photo from college they’d forgotten about got surfaced through a search.
It’s possible, too, that people will love it—that there will be heartwarming stories about people finding long-forgotten photos and connecting with lost friends. But we suspect the scare stories will spread faster.
Facebook is going to great lengths to provide powerful tools for privacy, like bulk untagging features to remove one’s name from photos and request that the poster take them down.
But we don’t think most people spend much time thinking about abstract concepts like “privacy.” They worry about emotional realities like embarrassment, conflict, and teasing.
They also have better things to do than twiddle endlessly with their Facebook settings.
(That said, if this is the kind of thing that worries you, you should take a look through your Timeline sooner rather than later for troublesome material.)
When the storm hits, Facebook’s public-relations staff will have to repeat patient explanations that the company announced this all in January 2013, put up warnings and explainers, and created tools for users to control who can see what.
None of that will matter to the kid who didn’t want the baby photo his parents tagged him in to pop up at the very worst time.
For example, when the girl he found through a Graph Search of “single women who are friends with my friends” checks out his profile.
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