Private Eyes Are Watching You

Facebook Graph Search Means You’re Back in the Personal Brand Curation Business

User, engage thyself.
gs2 Facebook Graph Search Means Youre Back in the Personal Brand Curation Business

(Photo: Facebook blog)

Yesterday, Facebook’s gamble on an Apple-esque press event paid off. The public markets punchline debuted “Graph Search,” a feature that recalled its pre-IPO promise. Some dared to wonder if the world’s largest social network, which can often feel like a steady stream of cross-posts from Twitter and Instagram, found a way to make itself “useful.” 

Through an intuitive search bar, users can easily sort all that data buried in “About” sections or deep the Timeline archives. Yelp can’t tell you which Indian restaurants your friends from India like. And, try as Search Plus Your World might, it wouldn’t be able to help you fill a Google+ circle with librarian friends who also like Beyoncé.

With all the personal data you’ve been turning over to Zuck suddenly searchable, Facebook “will no longer be flat,” wrote entrepreneur and journalist John Battelle:

“Prior to seeing the new search, I was not certain Facebook would ever live up to the hype it has accrued over its short life. It’s a good service, but it’s flat – over time, it struck me, people would tire of tending to it. They set up their social graph, toss a few sheep, poke some pals (or not), “like” this or that (often off-domain), waste hours on Farmville, and then…engagement drops slowly over time.”

Plateauing user engagement has been a problem for Facebook. Once upon a time, a big trip abroad or birthday party would get it’s own Facebook album, but that use case increasingly falls to Instagram. Same goes for “checking in” to your location. Twitter was the best way to find out which reporters were at the Menlo Park presser for “graph search,” for example.

And unlike the act of begrudgingly adding your favorite books to OkCupid in the hopes of separating the wheat from the chaff, Facebook has never given you a reason to make sure your “likes” actually reflect your tastes. I’m pretty sure the last “group,” I joined was some high school joke in 2007.

But Mark Zuckerberg’s ”Friends of friends who are single men in San Francisco” example during the announcement was lost on exactly no one.

Thus with the impending time suck of souped-up stalking on the horizon, suddenly there’s a reason to care not just that your personal information is private, but also that’s it correct. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo talked to Lars Rasmussen, one of the lead engineers on the search engine:

“There’s a question about whether the very presence of a search engine will make people share more or less,” Rasmussen said. You could imagine either scenario: Now that your info is searchable, you might be more reluctant to like stuff or to make your likes public, because you don’t want random people to find you in their search results. On the other hand, Rasmussen says, if you know your data is going to be used to recommend your favorite places to others, you might be more tempted to compulsively like or check-in to places you think your friends should know about.

In other words, as exhausting and dehumanizing as the task can be, there’s motivation to make Facebook as much of a curated reflection of you as the other social networks. If you’re the sort of person who googles yourself, graph search optimization is likely also a priority–especially as the current “limited” version of graph search gets built out.

At the very least, it’ll prompt you to clean up your profile–even if it’s only to make sure that poor spelling doesn’t mean you show up in graph results for “Men who like RAPING!”

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com