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Facebook unveils new search tool

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By Alexei Oreskovic

Menlo Park, California - Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled on Tuesday a feature to help its users search for people and places within the social network, in the company's first major product launch event since its May initial public offering.

Speaking to reporters at its Menlo Park headquarters, Zuckerberg described what he called “graph search”, which allows users to sort through only content that has been shared with them - addressing potential privacy concerns.

Available as a “beta” or early version now, the new feature - dubbed “graph search” because Facebook refers to its growing content, data and membership as the “social graph” - will initially let users browse mainly photographs, people, places and members' interests, he added.

Zuckerberg promised users will be able to tailor their searches, such as by specifying music and restaurants that their friends like, or their favourite dentist.

The news drove shares in Yelp, which focuses on customer reviews of restaurants and other popular services, about 7.1 percent lower.

“You need to be able to ask the query, like, who are my friends in San Francisco,” Zuckerberg said. “Graph search is a really big product. It's going to take years and years to index the whole map of the graph and everything we have out there.”

“We'll start rolling it out very slowly. We're looking forward to getting into more people hands over coming weeks and months.”

Critics have long deemed the social network's current search capabilities inadequate. Zuckerberg stressed that Facebook was not getting into Internet searches, Google’s specialty.

The world's largest online social network, with more than one billion users, Facebook is moving to regain Wall Street's confidence in the wake of a rocky IPO and concerns about its long-term money-making prospects.

Speculation had approached fever pitch over the past week about what Facebook planned to reveal in its highest-profile news briefing since its market debut. Guesses had ranged from a long-rumoured smartphone to a full Web-search product.

That anticipation, as well as expectations of strong fourth-quarter financial results, have helped boost Facebook's stock. Its shares are up more than 15 percent since the start of the year.

On Tuesday, its stock was off 0.3 percent at $30.84. - Reuters

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