July 8, 2013, 12:36 PM

Facebook launches its search engine, promising results quite different from those on Google

Facebook personalizes results based on users’ connections with people, places and things.

Lead Photo

After nearly six months of testing, Facebook Inc. has delivered its new search engine, Graph Search, to consumers who use the American English version of Facebook.com. The tool is available only to consumers using the PC version of Facebook. The social network says it is working on adding a mobile version of Graph Search.

Facebook says the tool provides personalized search results that focus on people, photos, places and interests. That means that a user who searches “jewelry stores” will see retailers that his friends have Liked or have interacted with—for instance, by tagging an engagement ring on a photo with a merchant’s name.

Facebook sees Graph Search as a “unique and important service” that only the social network can provide, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a conference call with analysts in May. He added that early results from its testing phase showed promise. “The people who use it have given us very positive feedback from it and I think it's going to be a very big opportunity,” he said.

Consumers type their queries into a large search box near the top of a Facebook page. The results differ from what consumers see on Google or Bing, the social network says. "In web search it is very often the case that if you do a search for 'apple' and I do a search for 'apple,' we’re basically going to get the same results," said Kari Lee, Facebook engineering manager, in a video released when the social network began testing the tool in January. "Maybe I’ll get slightly more technical results based on Apple computers and maybe you’ll care about the fruit a little bit more but [the results] are not that different from each other. Whereas on Facebook when you do the same searches we'll get completely different sets of results because of the depth of personalization that we do."

Facebook bases that personalization on what it knows about a user's connections with people, places, and things. For example, if an individual searches for restaurants in a particular city, the ones most popular with his closest friends are likely to be displayed first. The search engine also can give higher ranks to results similar to the searcher’s existing Likes and interests.

Only objects shared on Facebook will appear as a result in the search bar. However, if there aren't relevant results, Facebook may also offer suggestions in the search bar that trigger web searches powered by Bing, the Microsoft Corp. search engine. Microsoft owns a small minority stake in Facebook.

Since it began testing the tool in January, Facebook says it has improved the tool’s speed—both at suggesting potential searches while someone types and in returning results. The search tool also has improved at understanding searchers’ questions, Facebook says.

“This is just the beginning,” wrote the social network in a post on its news room page. “We're currently working on making it easier for people to search and discover topics, including posts and comments.”

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