How Facebook Graph Search Didn't Revolutionize My Sex Life

There were 1.1 billion people to choose from, but the filters couldn't lead me to a date.

BY KATE HAKALA

If you speak US English, you now have even more access to a one-billion-person-wide dating market—ostensibly. On Monday, Facebook opened up Graph Search to many more users and with new probing filters to search for people you might not even know, people are asking: Is this Facebook’s maiden voyage towards becoming a dating networking site?

By having access to a plethora of strangers’ meta-data, including pictures, favorites, and check-ins, the world might feel a little bit smaller, like we have a lot more in common than we ever knew. With a personalized way to find exactly who you want to, some media outlets have heralded Facebook Graph Search as a potential contender in online dating services. The thought being, why let personality tests and algorithms and a shallow pool determine who you should be with when Facebook has been fastidiously compiling personal data about 1.11 billion people since 2004? That’s the reasoning Tom Stocky, Facebook Product Director, makes when he noted the power Facebook Graph Search might have on the online dating market. "For single people, friends of friends tend to be a good start," Stocky said. The point is intriguing, but do people want to meet friends of friends offline and can it really weed through people accurately enough to become common practice?

Tom Scott, creator of the hilarious and viral Tumblr, “Actual Facebook Graph Searches”, told me in an email interview that he doesn’t think Graph Search has much potential for a viable and well-used dating service. Scott was wary initially on a practical level. He mentioned how Facebook silently pushes messages from non-friends into a weakly highlighted “Other” inbox, meaning we might not even be aware of messages from new dates. The other and much more potent complaint would be that Facebook isn’t perceived as that type of platform. Cold messaging and cold friending are still just that: cold, sparse, and abrupt. Facebook, while always a place to get suggestive “pokes” and receive private messages inviting you out for tacos, has never really ever wanted to become a dating site.

Mark Zuckerberg was steadfast about that point from the beginning, making sure to leave Facebook with as much ambiguity and anonymity as you pleased. The majority of people don’t sign up for Facebook to date; they sign up to connect with people they already know and like. I asked Scott if Graph Search can cast a huge net because people have unwittingly been “opted-in” to Graph Search by staying a member. He replied, “Facebook isn't perceived as a dating site: no-one's "opted in" to dating, so those notes would surely just be seen as creepy messages from strangers. But who knows?” As of now, there’s still that very real implication that runs through a person’s head when receiving unsolicited messages and friend requests: “Hey, I don’t know you,” “I didn’t invite this,” and “You might be a spammer.”

It’s best not to knock something before you try it, so I decided to set up my own science experiment. If I could cherry-pick who I met on Facebook, not through their names, but through their interests and experiences, would I find people who I’d be attracted to? I started typing in my “dream man” formulas into Graph Search (or just arbitrary, fun searches) to see if Facebook could be a worthy matchmaker. The results were simultaneously inspiring, hilarious, and depressing.

 

Search 1: The Broad Search

Result: This search criteria garnered by far the largest amount of results. Some of the results were oddly personal, too. For that, credit is due. Thousands of men are single in Brooklyn; who to begin with? What's funniest (maybe helpful or annoying, respectively), about this search is that it shows you your own friends first in the searches. Of the top five results, I had some connection to all of them: a past lover, an old coworker, a friend of an ex, a person I once asked out, and a person who once asked me out. Below them was a vast sea of strangers (though, the feature lists friends of friends first.) For someone as picky as me, this filter was too weak. Not enough personality was on display. I will say, though, that this search retrieved the people who I found most physically attractive (hello, beautiful freelance photographer and expressive bearded Venezuelan man). I viewed their profiles until I was discouraged and fatigued by the wealth of data.

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