After weeks of buzz surrounding Facebook's new feature announcement last week, we've finally gotten a good look at the much hailed "Graph Search" function. Using Facebook's vast library of information liked, shared, and documented by its users, Facebook is now allowing users to search through their friends and their interests in a fascinating new way. Unlike a traditional people search or the old-school search bar on Facebook's homepage, users don't need to search by name to get interesting information about their friends–they can search by location, interest, check-ins and more, cross-referencing the information Facebook has about its users to get a look at who likes what and how.

Graph Search works like a series of filters. Rather than searching for a name or a place, Graph Search lets you specify the characteristics you're looking for to narrow down a list like your list of friends or the friends of your friends. This allows you to sort down the people you know on Facebook into usefully short lists. (Check out the examples below for more about this.)The feature doesn't make any additional private information public–it only draws from the things people have shared and liked¬†publicly¬†on Facebook, which means it is only as useful as your friends are active on Facebook. It does make information about your friends really easy to access though, so this is also a good time to revisit your privacy settings to be sure you're not sharing more than you meant to.

How is it useful? Well, for example, if you were planning an outing to a local jazz musician's show, with Facebook's new search tools you could look up which of your friends live in the area and like jazz music, or even which friends like the specific artist you have in mind. Looking for a place to eat before the show? You can use Graph Search to check out which restaurants near the venue have been liked by your friends, or even which restaurants your friends have checked in at, if you'd like to ask for a personal review from one of them.

Is Graph Search a good way to find someone you're not already friends with? In most situations, no, not really. Graph search is great if you have a list of interests, a location, or a set of preferences and you're looking for people who share those characteristics, but it's not designed to help you find a specific person. The one (admittedly useful) exception to this is if you meet someone, say at a friend's party, and you can't remember her name. If you know just a few things about her, you can easily get a short list of people who fit those things. For example, if you meet someone at your friend Paul's birthday party and can only remember that she went to the University of Iowa, she works for Google, and she really likes dogs, you could quickly pull up a list all of Paul's friends who went to the University of Iowa, work for Google, and like dogs, which is a lot easier to look through than all of Paul's friends.

So how will it change how I use Facebook? Well, for most people, it won't change anything for quite a while. Graph Search is out in an extremely limited beta, so only a tiny fraction of Facebook's users have access to it now. (If you'd like to get it sooner rather than later, you can sign up for the waitlist on Facebook now.) As the feature is rolled out to more users, it should get progressively more useful.

Once it's in wide use, it could certainly change how you use Facebook. For one thing, Graph Search incentivizes sharing a lot more information, so the search function can include you in its results for your friends. If you've been waiting to update the list of artists you like or more information about places you've been, Graph Search may be a good reason to get that stuff up now. That said, it may also raise privacy concerns for a lot of users, so consider carefully how much information you're ok with people being able to see about you and revisit your privacy settings to be sure you're not sharing more than you mean to.

Facebook, People Search and Background Checks