I Might Be Too Old for Facebook Graph Search

Facebook's Graph Search sounds great. But unless you and your pals are putting lots of data in, you're probably not going to get a lot of data out.

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Facebook's Graph Search.

On Sunday, I turned 30.

That’s not too old, I tell myself, yet the signs of aging are creeping in. Teenagers listen to music that I either haven’t heard of or believe to be mostly terrible. They use slang I don’t recognize, and I imagine my slang would sound to them like “groovy” or “far out” sound to me.

But for the purposes of our tech blog, the most notable sign is how much more active teens are on Facebook than I am. To hear it from my wife, who works with children and teens at her job, they’re constantly signed in and active, to the point that reaching them by voice call is unreliable. Send them a Facebook message, even during school hours, and they’ll respond right away. (The reality isn’t quite that extreme; according to a Pew survey, most teens communicate through text messages and phone calls more than Facebook, but e-mail is far behind.)

So when Facebook announces a new feature, like Graph Search, I imagine those teens getting the most use out of it. Graph Search lets you look up people, places, photos and other things using natural search queries. Think of it like Google for everything that your friends know; instead of searching the Web for somewhere to eat or something to do, you could just search through the collective wisdom of your network.

Here are some of the example searches on Facebook’s Graph Search home page:

  • Music my friends like
  • Restaurants in London my friends have been to
  • People who like cycling and are from my hometown
  • Photos before 1990

Being able to find all that information–and provide your own information for friends–sounds great. But unless you and your pals are putting lots of data in, you’re probably not going to get a lot of data out. I know for sure that I haven’t put much effort into connecting my real life story to Facebook, and as I poke around my network, I see that many of my friends haven’t either. They don’t check in to places they visit. They don’t “Like” everything that they actually like. They haven’t uploaded photos from before 1990. Collectively, we haven’t invested in making Graph Search as useful as it could be.

It might be different if I was part of the generation that uses Facebook more often. Though it’s hard to find data on how Likes and check-ins vary by age, younger users tend to have more Facebook friends than older ones, according to Edison Research, so at least they have a bigger base of people to work with. And according to a 2011 study, teens spend more time on the network per day than older users. If posting on Facebook is part of your social circle’s daily life–that is, it’s not just a way to see what old high school buddies are up to–I imagine Graph Search will be a lot more useful.

That’s not to say Graph Search won’t be of any value to someone like me. It could come in handy as a way to sort through photos, for instance. There’s also a chance that Facebook will improve the ways that it picks up on our interests, and integrate frictionless sharing so there’s less work involved in becoming an information source.

But while I plan to keep up with technology for a long time, I realize it’s hard to keep using social networks like a teenager when your friends are getting older too. Facebook isn’t part of my daily life anymore, so I can’t imagine rewiring my habits and turning it into a primary information source, especially if my friends aren’t doing the same.  It’s much easier to rely on the tools I already have, such as traditional search engines and sites like Yelp–just like it’s easy to stop keeping track of popular music or to pick up on new slang.

Graph Search is in “very limited” beta now, and users who want to try it can join the waiting list. I look forward to seeing what I can do with it, even if it’s not really for me. In the meantime, here’s to growing older.