Facebook has been working on a not-yet-launched service called “Questions,” that will have users ask and answer each others’ questions — similar to a few other services that are out already, but maybe more interesting to the average person. Now, a few more details have emerged, though, via a Facebook user who has been part of the feature’s private testing.
Users will be able to query friends, tag questions with topics, and vote responses up or down to surface the best answers with Questions. Despite utilizing a similar interface, a screenshot attained by Techcrunch points to it occupying a niche separate from that of knowledge base Quora, which was recently founded by former Facebook employees Charlie Cheever and Adam D’angelo.
Rather, the feature’s ability to return a consensus on opinion questions and solicit recommendations makes it better poised to compete with Google-acquired Aardvark — although there are some differences in that comparison, too.
The unique value of Facebook Questions is in allowing users to quickly gauge the preferences of their close friends –a starting point for group decision making. Questions will be accessed through a link on the home page’s left sidebar, alongside other core in-house apps like events and photos. According Sid Yadav of New Zealand ,who’s had access to Questions, the full interface substitutes the familiar “What’s on your mind?” input box with “What do you want to know?”, followed by a series of questions which your friends have answered.
The top right of the screen displays a participation counter showing your number of questions asked, answered, followed, and voted on. This feature is absent from Quora and Aardvark and could be used to encourage participation on Questions like Facebook Impact does for invites, though it might make users more conscious of the 20+ hours a month the average users spends on Facebook.
The report suggests that opinion questions regarding pop culture and the idiosycracies of everyday life have been the most common. These are reminiscent of many humorous generic Pages on Facebook (now converted to Community Pages). See, for example, Pretending to Text in Awkward Situations which is liked by 3,740,867 people. Users have liked these sorts of Pages because they can easily share their opinion with lots of of other people. The feature’s popularity suggests that users may gravitate towards low impact questions that don’t require expertise, leaving more room for knowledge-focused services like Quora. Overall, Yadav concurs, saying Questions, “seems to be more intimate/fun/terse than intellectual/useful/detailed”. Although answers certainly vary by individual based on their network of Facebook friends.
Facebook has apparently been working on this project, a successor to its now defunct Polls feature, since 2008. While question-and-answer services like Yahoo Answers have been around for years, and while there are newer rivals, Facebook’s advantage is that it has millions of loyal users and detailed data about them.
Repurposing some of Quora’s interface for a less academic audience could be a great move for Facebook. Questions could generate a wealth of high quality notifications, from ego boosting upvotes to helpful answers to personal questions. These in turn lead to return visits, where reading and composing long answers increase time-on-site. Facebook doesn’t need to directly challenge Quora, or even Aardvark, because they’ll find that while there are only so many experts, everyone has friends with opinions. Allowing users to easily collect and act on the opinions of their friends will make Facebook even more indispensable to modern social life.