A beast is on the loose.
Where it actually lives is hard to pinpoint. But it's safe to say this beast will not die any time soon. Massive and unstoppable, it feeds incessantly, not on conventional animal sustenance, but on one of the most sustainable "crops" in the history of humankind: our own personal data.
And this week, the beast went public.
Facebook Graph Search is now available to all Facebook users
, and it's a massive improvement over Facebook's old search mechanism. Instead of spitting back random profiles and websites when you enter a search term, Graph Search uses the data people serve up to the social network in a highly personal way, allowing you to do "deeper dives" into the people and things you care about. For instance, you can search for music your friends like, pictures of a particular person, places friends have gone out to dinner.
But Graph Search is only as good as the data people choose to make available to the public and to their friends.
So, are you going to feed the Graph?
I'm not saying you should or shouldn't. But I will encourage you to be aware. Because certain pieces of information are always public — your profile picture and cover photo, for example — one could argue that your mere presence on the social network feeds the Graph whether you like it or not. But it's important to remember that other actions also make you searchable:
Tagging yourself, or when others tag you, in photos
Sharing music you listen to on Spotify
Adding locations to your status updates, such as restaurants
Sharing the movies you watch
Sharing the video games you play
Even if you share these pieces of information with a select group of people, that group will be able to search for these pieces of information on you whenever they want, and thus base their own decisions regarding these matters on what they find. If you're OK with that, then share away.
But if you're not, think twice before you share. Think about who you'd want to see such information. Then think about those people, and who they might in turn share that information with if they so choose. People might be able to find things out about you that you didn't even realize, all because a friend with sharing philosophies different from your own decided to feed the Graph.
Or, perhaps you're pleased as punch about this whole Graph Search thing. After all, how convenient is it to look up the movies your friends are watching for some date night ideas, instead of trolling websites for reviews from people you don't know? How cool is it to discover new music based on what your friends are listening to? Or even new recipes based on what your friends are cooking in their kitchens?
We're all at least a little curious about what's going on in our social circles. It's why social networking is so popular. And it's why Facebook's Graph Search can only grow and refine itself: We simply can't get enough details about other people.
Perhaps that means we've known all along where the Graph beast we feed really lives: Within ourselves.