Everyone seems to be losing their shit over Facebook’s announcement of its social search function (which, incidentally, would be a much nicer name than ‘Graph Search’, seeing as there are no graphs involved).
The idea, simply enough, is that you will search Facebook instead of Google. Want to know what film to see? Search in Facebook for ‘people who like films I like film recommendations’ (or something) and you’ll get recommended films from friends (and friends’ friends, and their friends, as far as privacy settings allow) about what films to check out.
In principle, it’s a pretty nifty idea. It’s well targeted, it’s highly practical – in the sense that you will use it to search for things you will do in your life, rather than simply trying to find awesome Wikipedia pages – and in theory, it’s building off the recommendations of people whose interests (or social circles) you share.
(Sorry, by the way, about all the parentheses)
But I’m not sold. Not yet. The reason? The assumption that Facebook mirrors our lives and proclivities. And it doesn’t. Not yet.
I can’t say for certain how representative I am on this, and Facebook’s famed stinginess with information means that there is little to no data on it, but my Facebook page is really no great reflection of the person I am. It isn’t even my real name.
I ‘like’ very few things, and when I do, it’s not exactly an endorsement, but almost always liking a media publication or product that I see merit in having pop up in my feed. For instance, I’m an avid reader of Slate, so I ‘like’ Slate on Facebook, and they will fill my feed with links to articles I can then choose to read.
I also really enjoy The Napier in Fitzroy and my local bar, but until right now, I didn’t even know if either HAD a Facebook page. Because my Facebook page is no more useful to me by ‘liking’ them, I haven’t bothered, even though I ardently love both places. The same applies to film, music, food, you name it.
While I can’t speak for everyone, I’m fairly confident that most people don’t keep an accurate representation of themselves online. At the very least, we like to put our best foot forward publicly, so we may not, for instance, ‘like’ Jersey Shore, for fear of opprobrium. Some people are deeply private. Some people obsessively ‘like’ brand pages in order to score deals and discounts, even though they’re not exactly champions of Harvey Norman.
Even further down the rabbit hole – if you were to ask Facebook who my closest friends were, it would get the answer profoundly wrong. Most of my closest friends are not avid users of Facebook. It would know who I’m married to, but if it treated Facebook interactions as a measure of close friends, they’d be off the mark.
I interact on Facebook with friends who are more inclined to interact with people on Facebook. Sure, this keeps them closer to me than if they didn’t, but it doesn’t mean I care more about their opinions than some of my mates who may not even have Facebook accounts.
So, go ahead, Facebook, make social searching a thing. I think it’s a good idea, and it sure can’t hurt. But until Facebook becomes an accurate representation of how our lives work, let’s not get too carried away by the idea of a Google Killer.