Apparently Facebook Questions Is An Aardvark Competitor, Not A Quora Killer

After posting about Facebook’s new Questions product that’s being tested earlier today, Blake Ross, the Director of Product at Facebook responded to a question on Quora to clarify what the product exactly entails. In fact Blake gave a lot of details about why other products at Facebook had not been upgraded until recently in addition to clarifying what the new product is about.

Liz Ganne postulates that rather than comparing the new product to Quora, it should instead be compared to Aardvark, the company Google acquired for $50 million. As I had alluded to in the previous post and Blake has since confired, Questions is an evolution of the company’s now defunct Polls product.

Here’s the full text posted by Blake:

I’ll answer this since I’m involved in the questions prototype at Facebook.

Real-time Q&A backed by people has been a dream of mine since I joined Facebook three years ago. If you ever used the old Facebook Polls product, you know how powerful it is to toss a question into the ether and watch results stream in from around the globe in seconds. People already ask logistical and recommendation questions on Facebook (e.g. “Is Desperate Housewives a repeat tonight?” or “What’s a good Italian restaurant around here?”) and we’d like to see what happens when we combine that use case with the magic of the Polls product to deliver instantaneous results.

There’s been a lot of hype about “the Q&A space” recently with the acquisition of Aardvark, the launch of Quora and the expansion of StackOverflow, but I consider this typical blogosphere theatrics. All these products are pursuing very different use cases. For instance, Quora is focused on creating a forum-like environment for participants to iterate on a knowledgebase, while Aardvark is focused on getting really fast results for more day-to-day queries. Given that Facebook is a social utility, our focus is on delivering practical value to users who need answers quickly from the people around them (whether socially or spatially). This question itself is a good example of something that Facebook Questions wouldn’t answer well, nor do we care to.

Facebook’s experimentation in this “space” is actually a direct result of internal circumstances at the company rather than all this recent outside activity. For the last few years, we didn’t have enough engineers to make significant, sustained investments in our applications (e.g. photos and events). Earlier this year, we finally got comfortable enough with our recruiting numbers to reorganize the product engineering group into dedicated application teams of 4-5 people each. That’s why you’re suddenly seeing improvements to applications that haven’t evolved in years, such as our recent launch of higher res photos. One of our app teams is charged with experimentation and we decided to pursue this vision of real-time Q&A now that the resources were finally in place.

Observers of the tech industry often have a vastly oversimplified view of the world. I remember when we launched Facebook Lite and it was considered to be our “Twitter killer” because the Facebook/Twitter “battle” was the meme of the month, even though I’m pretty sure the Lite team never even uttered the word Twitter during development. Likewise, our recent purchase of Octazen was somehow an answer to Google Buzz (…), as was our AOL/Connect partnership (…). Your question implies that Facebook is setting out to compete with Quora so perhaps we’re in for another month of unfortunate headlines.

Sensationalism notwithstanding, I’m not someone who’s driven by “killing” someone else’s baby. There are too many new and exciting things to give birth to. Even if Facebook were led by stoic businessmen (it’s not), a “Quora-killer” wouldn’t make objective sense. Quora is a terrific product built on Facebook Connect. It isn’t competitive with the core use cases of Facebook, which is why Facebook Questions is pursuing different use cases.

I was one of Quora’s earliest users, and like everyone else here, I’m now an addict. I’m also friends with Quora’s founding team. You can bet I’ll be rooting them on in their inevitable march to success.

I should also add that while Blake has labeled my post as “blogosphere theatrics” and “sensationalism”. While we do enjoy the occasional sensationalistic title, assuming that Facebook would consider a “Quora-like” product is not exactly an irrational line of thinking. However, rather than defending our post, I’ll simply state that it’s great to see Blake provide the classic “this space is big enough for all of us and we aren’t competing” (just as Ning isn’t competing with Facebook) statement.