What's the big deal about Facebook's new search tool? Search me

It slices! It dices! Facebook's Graph Search will change life as we know it! Unless it doesn't

Facebook's announcement of a new smartphone search service yesterday is garnering a lot of oohs and aahs across the Webbernets, as well as its share of WTFs.

We're told, for example, that Graph Search's ability to look across your "social graph" for things your alleged friends like will disrupt all kinds of stand-alone Web services, sticking a dagger into the back of sites like LinkedIn, Yelp, and Match.com, not to mention Google. Or possibly not.

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One of the reasons this is all unclear is that, aside from the hour-long searchapalooza witnessed by a few dozen journos and bloggers at Facebook's Palo Alto HQ yesterday, very few people have seen Search Graph -- er, I mean Graph Search in action.

According to said demo, you can now search across your Facebook network by job title and employer, food preferences, movie recommendations, school ties, or combinations thereof, thus finding new hires, places to eat, things to do, or classmates to shmooze.

What can Facebook's Graph Search do that Google doesn't? Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan reduces it to the essentials:

Need a good plumber? An electrician? Someone to do your taxes? A doctor? A dentist? These are all typically questions that are great to ask friends. You trust friends. With Facebook Graph Search, there's the promise of asking all your friends this at once without actually having to ask them. You can just search and discover professionals like this that they like.

The problem with that scenario: You have to be a total Facebook freak -- and have a lot of similar freaks in your friends list -- before this kind of search approaches the utility of Yelp, even if there you are relying on the sageness of strangers. For this to work, professional service providers also need to have their own Facebook presence. Sullivan admits he doesn't know whether his plumber, accountant, or dentist have Facebook pages, let alone whether he's Liked them.

Cnet's Jennifer Van Grove, who got to play around with Graph Search, calls it "powerful and fun," as well as "complicated and definitely beta." She writes:

The average person won't immediately know how to find exactly what he or she is looking for, nor will a newbie understand the myriad things they can search for or find through Graph Search. There is steep learning curve here. Some members will enjoy the process; others will lament the labor. And while the engine pivots around mostly obvious natural language phrases, I can easily see the average person getting frustrated by a loss as to what to type into blue bar to get the results they want.

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