Houston: Popular social networking site Facebook has unveiled a new feature - Graph Search - to allow users refine queries on people, photos or places and to make it easier to find content on the site.
Meant for uncovering information in your Facebook network, Graph Search can be used to search for something simple like "Photos of my friends," or something more complex like "Photos of my friends before 1990 uploaded by my mom."
The service is in beta now, with only a few hundred people gaining access on Tuesday.
Facebook will be using results from those initial users to help tweak the service, before it pushes it out to the whole of the Facebook community.
If it catches on with users, the tool, could challenge a range of other internet companies, from arch-rival Google to ratings services like Yelp, and even video streaming sites such as Netflix.
Graph Search offers a different experience than the kind of Web searches enabled by Google, which can be open-ended and return a range of links, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a press conference at the company's new headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
The new feature, at first, will take more precise queries related to four topics: people, places, photos, and interests and return answers that are constrained by the content and preferences specified by the searcher's community on the social network.
"We are not indexing the Web," Zuckerberg said. "We are indexing our map of the [social] graph".
Users can navigate through the 240 billion photos on the network, the trillions of user "likes," and the connections between users. But they can only see content that users have specified as either public and/or viewable to others in their network.
Users "want a search tool that can help you get access to things that people have just shared with you," Zuckerberg said.
The search could enable FB to build some new businesses.
When a user types in "music my friends like," "TV shows my friends like," or "restaurants liked by my friends from India," the site returns a range of related media content and local businesses, and each listing includes ratings from friends.
The next natural step for Facebook is to give users direct links to friend-recommended movies, TV shows, and restaurants, but Zuckerberg said the company is not currently thinking about making money from Graph Search.
"This potentially could be a business over time, but for now we've been focused on building out this user experience. We first need to build something high quality. That is mission No1," he said.
First Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013, 19:09