When Facebook's valuable database was still locked inside the network—with only a notoriously terrible search engine to help excavate results—products that built smart ways to access it found niches from dating to job hunting. But the company set its data free when it launched a new Graph Search on Tuesday.
The tool makes it easy for users to explore their Facebook connections without leaving Facebook. They can search "friends who have been to Paris" instead of logging into travel site Gogobot to ask the right people for recommendations. They can search "photos of friends taken in the last week" instead of logging into Pixable to check out the most-recent photos category. They can find single people nearby who share their interests without signing up for a dating site.
That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that they will. Most startups that use Facebook data also use other sources, which means their results can be richer. Startups can also add features specific to a particular task because they’re only designed for one context. Gogobot, for instance, not only connects Facebook friends for travel recommendations, but also hosts tools for exploring and price checking.
"If Facebook was doing only browsing of photos," says Pixable founder Inaki Berenguer, "of course, it would destroy us." But it's not. It's doing everything.
Whether it is the smartest thing Facebook has ever done or not that impressive will be debatable for a long time. Search results we can test now. In the slideshow above, we put the product—which, to be fair, is still in beta—to a test against the third-party products it overlaps.
[Image: Flickr user En busca del sol]