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Ask HN: What happened to Facebook graph search?
114 points by _kyran on Sept 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments
I recall a few years ago being able to create really meanifull and helpfull queries on facebook like:

Friends of friends who like mountain biking and live in New Zealand

However it seems that facebook's search has been dumbed down. Were the searches too computationally intensive or abused in some form?

Any FB employees care to chime in as to what happened?

I've done a reasonable amount of work (and even more investigation into) Graph search.

I believe the story is that they shipped it, and then found that the people who were using the most powerful parts the most weren't exactly the kind of customers they wanted.

Since then they have been modifying the API so less and less of it works. It is very difficult to work out exactly what and what doesn't work because it depends on the the account you are using and that account's relationships with the people and groups you are searching, as well as the rights each of those gives. The FB default permission schemes have changed significantly over time (to be less open) too.

Also, there seem to be bugs, and it is difficult to know what is intentional, what is because of permissions and what is a bug.

For example, it seems impossible to read posts made by other users to a page via the graph API even when that same account can read them when logged in interactively. This doesn't seem to be documented anywhere, and there are plenty of online sources showing code that seemed to have worked previously. So is it a bug or deliberate? Most seem to assume it is deliberate, but who really knows?

To be clear: I have no internal FB sources on this.

Off topic: is there a way to extract the email addresses (or phone numbers) of the friends?

I have disabled my FB but would like to extract the contact information of the people I am friends with.

Emails? No way, unless if you create an app and get each of them to follow that link, etc. Phone number is available if they chose to make it public to you as a friend/acquaintance.

Facebook is already battling pretty large privacy concerns with a lot of media scrutiny. There's a lot of danger in having a tool like the graph search available to people with malicious intent. The EFF had a good post on the subject from back when it was active [1].

When you're part of a network as big as Facebook's, at a certain point your own privacy settings don't matter very much, because the people you're connected to can generally fill in the gaps about whatever you may want to keep private.

[1] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/01/facebook-graph-search-...

It's imortant to keep in mind that metadata alone says a lot about a person. Combine that with more precise data from a few people in the same set and you can end up with very accurate data about everybody.

Accurate enough to kill people, according to James Clapper.

Interestingly, your query - "Friends of friends who like mountain biking and live in New Zealand" - still works for me and indeed, I see two friends of friends from New Zealand that like biking.

Works great for me, too.

It got merged into the regular search bar - but the advanced features are only supported if your locale is set to US-English

Wow...and for _years_ I thought I was in some annoying holdback pool... I had UK-English set just for the readable timestamps.

Just changed to US-English and Graph-esque searches work fine. Thanks!

Oh! And here all this time I've been thinking they just never actually launched the feature.

It possibly might have been scaled back along with the rest of their cuts to permissions in their Graph API in 2015: https://techcrunch.com/2015/04/28/facebook-api-shut-down/

You could check how that changed over time: https://developers.facebook.com/docs/apps/changelog

Not sure if they are the same, but it might be along the same lines of "We don't want to give everyone access to everything".

My source tells me people did not use graph search. Only engineers or programmers used it. The wide population is not used to searching in a structural format. The cost benefit ratio did not work out

Who besides programmers did they envision using the API? Did they expect my mom to bust out curl and start looking for new friends?

Half of the answers are something like: "It would be super evil of Facebook to allow this kind of search".

The other half are like: "It does work".


Privacy, I would guess.

For exemple, you could see that your Tinder match was from X town and liked A, B, F, G, K pages.

You could then go in FB Graph and write "Girls from X who likes A, B, F, G, K pages". This returns two results and you find the girl. Even easier if you knew her first name, you could go "People named Z who likes ... in ... city."

I'll admit to doing this, along with reverse google image searches of profile pictures.

URL/search experiments from 2015, which don't seem to work now: http://booleanblackbelt.com/2015/02/important-facebook-graph...

What do you mean by "doesn't seem to work"? The searches in that article either work for me, or return zero results.

I was a part of the graph search beta, way back when, and live in the US, which is mentioned in another comment as possibly giving me more access.

The graph search was partially powered by Bing in the back end. So when the Microsoft/Facebook partnership ended, most of the search capability you're talking about had to be removed.

See (for example): https://techcrunch.com/2014/12/13/facebook-dumps-bing-will-i...

I worked at Bing until 2012 and did some work on the FB integration. While I didn't work on the graph search itself, IIRC that was also provided by MS. I didn't know that the partnership had since ended, though.

Normal people didn't care for that functionality so it was deemphasized in favor of different types of search. A lot of it still works, though.

I miss this as well, but only used it for location based searches to get complete lists while traveling.

My guess is that the infrastructure required wasn't worth it.

A little OT but reminds me of the design implications of Graph Search: the Friendship pages which were introduced in 2010 [0]

From what I remember, these were introduced but after awhile, seemed to be a feature that fell into obscurity. As in, you pretty much had to manually enter the URL. The feature still exists and it's highly welcome, IMO, when FB does the occasional "You and John Doe have been friends for 8 years. See your memories" type reminders.

But to manually see your friendship with a friend, at least on the Desktop version, you have to click the "..." menubox, in which other lesser used features (such as "Poke") are buried. And it's possible to view the mutual content between any two users by filling out this URL manually: facebook.com/friendship/friend1/friend2

But I'm guessing the latter functionality was never given prominent exposure due to how easily it could be used for stalking a current or ex-love interest? Sure, you could scour your targets' walls individually and make a note of all public photos/messages in which they mutually appear. But the Friendship view streamlined that process as much as the original News Feed streamlined old-fashioned profile browsing.

I'm having a hard time imagining that it was a feature that would be popular for innocent reasons -- I'm already inundated with news items about friends' activity on my newsfeed, why would I want to view a highly scoped newsfeed about two people who are not-me for innocent reasons, even if I were extremely bored and Facebook were the only site on the Internet?

[0] http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/friendship-pages-mutual-co...

FB's Graph API is not a stable API, there are frequent changes as to what information is accessible and what isn't. Looks like there are similar issue with user facing features like graph search.

Not an answer, but a bit of context: https://www.facebook.com/graphsearcher/ The link on that page is just broken, not even a "we've removed this content for reasons".

Anyone knows how to get a dump of facebook's peoples directory? I would like to do name analysis for India and get for unique baby names.


sarika talam

It still works. You just need to use the GET API for reliable results.


Friends of friends


Mutual friends of two people


Photos where both people are tagged

https://www.facebook.com/search/<id1>/photos-tagged/<id2>/ph... or


Photos recommended for a person


Photos liked by a person


Photos commented on by a person


Stories or posts liked by a person


There's plenty of other words operators and entities

IDs are numerical

Should get you started

How likely is it for Facebook to block you for attempting to use these APIs rather than the public Graph API?

This is public.

But assuming it wasn't... How likely? How can one answer such a question?

It presumes their use is counter to FB interests

On that I disagree. Yet assume that is instead true.

Even then I feel there are far many more interests that weigh on the side of using these than on blocking them. So I predict they will remain open

I'm pretty sure they were abused in the way that child neglect is abuse: nobody except a minority of people like us ever used it.

I remember using it quite often, although results were mixed.

It seemed that the true potential wasn't possible without compromising privacy completely – i. e. I'd love to run queries of "people working at the White House who have attended events with (me|Osama bin Laden)" but I wouldn't want to show up in searches if other people used it.

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