Facebook granted me access to its Graph Search today, allowing me to search through various "likes" and check-ins of my friends and even their friends. So far I've found the results pretty underwhelming.
"Restaurants in Framingham, Massachusetts (the town where Computerworld's office is located) my friends like" brought up a list of nine spots, all of which I know about. There are star ratings next to some of the restaurants, but no indication where those come from (although I do know those ratings weren't compiled by my Facebook friends, since Facebook doesn't let us rate places we "like").
I can't say it was particularly useful feedback on where to have lunch, since I'm not sure I share the same taste in food as the friends whose results came back. Come to think of it, I'm not even 100% sure those friends actually enjoy the places they "like." Maybe they followed a page to enter a contest? Or to get a coupon they used once but never went back to the place?
As any reviewing site knows, information about why people like a product or place is just as important as whether they approve. One person who likes inexpensive comfort food isn't going to be a good indicator for a foodie who favors innovative fusion cuisines. Yet the results are simply binary: These people liked that place. Nothing more. It's up to us if we want more details.
In addition, what people don't like can be even more helpful at times than places they "like." Yet that's not something I could find through Graph Search. I tried to search my friends' status updates that mentioned "Galaxy S" as a test, but that brought back a "post search is not yet supported" response. I assume the "yet" means that at some point, post search will be an option. Right now it seems like a pretty glaring omission for rollout.
Can Graph Search help before I travel? I tested by searching for places my friends like in Paris. That brought up three obvious attractions (Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Champs Élysées) as well as a bar liked by a ham-radio friend 20 years younger than me. Although I'd surely take his advice about radio or computer equipment, I'm guessing we may not share the same ideas about European night spots. Perhaps I don't have enough friends in my circle who have experience traveling in Paris, but I can't see how this is better information than I can get from TripAdvisor or a guide book.
Finally, I gave "dentists my friends like" a try, one of the use cases touted by Facebook in its video announcing the new search. Of the three that came back, two were out of state while the third was liked by a single colleague. That's a snippet of potentially useful info, I suppose, but certainly nothing better than I could get from asking my friends who they use during lunch.
Is the problem that I don't have enough Facebook friends? That too many of my friends aren't local? Or don't necessarily share my tastes or travel destinations? Perhaps. ButI'm not the only one out there with a multi-generational friends lists and mixture of personal and professional contacts. While Graph Search may evolve into something significantly more useful than what I'm seeing now, so far I don't think Google, Trip Advisor or Yelp have much to worry about.