No, not Santa Claus, but the Wizard of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook’s algorithms have been collecting, cataloguing and storing an immense storehouse of data made possible by a billion people who share their personal lives online on the social network.
They post status updates complete with photos and charts, everything from their latest recipe creations to their day-to-day struggles taking care of a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Right now folks in the U.S. Northeast are posting photos and comments about Nemo, the latest blizzard now blanketing the region.
I’ve collected 576 friends since I first joined Facebook back in September 2009. On October 4, 2011, I established an author’s page to try to generate some sales of my novels. The page has 716 likes.
I’ve posted hundreds of jpgs over the years – everything from my nieces’ weddings and a new-born great-nephew to some related to my writing, paintings of warrior women that once graced fantasy novels.
|The Grand Annoucement|
If asked in my more innocent days what I thought happened to all the postings made by people back at the dawn of the Facebook Age, I would have unveiled this scenario.
Zuckerberg frowns, crosses his arms and narrowly eyes one of his server gurus. “We’re out of storage space and the storage tapes just went up in price. Delete January through June 2005.”
I doubt anything like this ever happened. I expect everything you, me and the other billion users posted through the years still exists in the nether regions between the symbols of computer code.
That’s why I’m not the least bit surprised that Facebook is taking on its archrival Google, announcing a search tool – Graph Search – designed to mine all that personal information collected over the years.
I’ve noticed just one person on Facebook, a fellow author, posting worries about Graph Search. That surprises me. I would have thought I’d be seeing a deluge of graphic posts warning about Facebook’s newest assault on privacy.
Maybe people don’t know about Graph Search, even though the search engine was announced with much fanfare. Or maybe people think the privacy controls they’re using will keep Graph Search from turning up more intimate information. What’s a given is that people are more cautious about what they share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.
If you take Facebook at its word, it intends to respect users’ privacy in the brave new world of Graph Search. For example, if a job seeker doesn’t want a risqué photo to be ferreted out by a potential employer, he or she can make it visible only to those who have been winnowed down as “close friends.” Face is advising users to check their privacy settings in order to fine-tune whom they wish to share posts with online.
But even if I’m careful about what photos I post on Facebook and with whom I share the photos with, I can’t control what my Facebook friends post. Let’s say I partied hard in my youth and a friend took some revealing shots of me camped out on a couch groping a female acquaintance now happily married with three children. I’m not friends on FB with this ancient friend, so I don’t know he has posted some “party” shots from olden times including the one of me. Worst yet, he has tagged me. So that photo could very well be ferreted out by Graph Search.
Graph Search is now in beta testing. When it’s fully up and running, it will be the most powerful search engine in existence, dwarfing Google Search. Every time you go to another site and read a news story, for example, then press the site’s Facebook icon, the fact that you “like” the news story is going into Facebook’s immense data that is searchable by Graph Search.
|Friends Liking Friends|
Facebook graph system has been accumulating information since the day Facebook opened and the first connections were made in the software graph structure. A columnist for Slapdot writes, “I did a search of people who like running and have visited my hometown, and the system produced several dozen people. The information is already there. And these people weren’t on my Friends list, and the few I checked didn’t have any mutual friends with me.”
The Slapdot columnist adds, “For users of Facebook looking to meet more friends, Graph Search might prove interesting and useful. And for law enforcement and other ‘Big Brother’ analyses, it could be a gold mine. People were nervous about Google storing their history, but it pales in comparison to the information Facebook already has on you, me and roughly a billion other people.”
Facebook is hoping Graph Search will make it a whole lot of money. But that will depend on Facebook’s users continuing to share all kinds of stuff with their FB friends – their interests, photos and likes. The beta version doesn’t include status updates, but that will apparently change later on.
On the other hand, Graph Search holds unbridled promise for marketers and advertisers seeking to target more precise audiences. Let’s say I’m the CEO of a corporation that owns two companies; one sells dance outfits for little girls and the other, a company that sells clogging music. I could use Graph Search to find mothers in their 30s who have daughters taking dance lessons.
I could see where Graph Search could be very useful for indie authors and authors under contract to ebook publishers. I could use it to find FB users who are major fans of the fantasy genre, specifically novels with elves and dwarves. Can you spell “future sales?”
These same fantasy genre fans could use Graph Search to find authors like me who are not in the stables of major publishing houses. Can you spell “more future sales?”
So while Graph Search has me nervous, I do see the benefits. And I will keep my posts “public.”