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Up Close With Facebook Questions
Facebook Questions is the latest in a long line of question-and-answer services online but, as Danny Sullivan mentioned in his news article earlier, it’s the only one with a community of 500 million users behind it. For comparison’s sake, Yahoo Answers, the recognized leader in the Q&A space, announced in late 2009 that it had reached 200 million users worldwide. It remains to be seen what percentage of Facebook members will use Questions, but it’s obvious that the service could surpass Yahoo Answers in due time.
Facebook Questions will likely succeed by default to some degree thanks to having such a large base of potential users to draw from. As it rolls out to more users, adoption will grow. But will they stay? That’ll probably depend on the features and how easy it is to use. With that in mind, let’s take a look inside Facebook Questions.
How to Ask Facebook Questions
While Facebook Questions is rolling out, new users will see a notification that it’s available to them. It first appears as a new option on the Wall tab.
Notice the small print below the text box? It says “Your question will be visible to everyone.” As you begin using Facebook Questions, the service does a good job making it obvious what you’re doing and who’ll be able to see your activity. That’s a smart move in light of all the privacy issues that have dogged Facebook over the years.
I typed my first question into the box above, and before adding it to the site, Facebook showed me this pop-up window that serves as an extra warning.
After clicking on “Ask Question” to confirm things, the question is on the site and available to be answered by any other user. Facebook automatically “tags” the question based on the words you’ve used. In my case, it placed the question in the “Seattle” topic (correctly) and a “Years” topic (say what?).
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Fortunately, you can edit the topics/tags — more on that in a moment. I’ve asked a question about a flower and need to show what I’m talking about so others can help. With each question, you have three options that only show up after the initial question has been posted:
- Add description
- Add photo
- Add poll options
In my case, “Add photo” was what I needed and it’s as simple as you’d expect. After upload, the photo shows in thumbnail size by default, but it can be clicked to see the larger version.
When you’re done, adding or changing the topics is easy, but a bit hard to find. It’s not right below the question as one of the edit links. On the far right of the question page is a section called “Related Topics.” (see screenshot above) It shows the current topics for your question and has an “Edit” link — that’s where you can remove or add new topics.
Sharing Questions with Friends
The social aspect of Facebook is where it can (and likely will) set itself apart from other services, including Yahoo Answers. Yes, Yahoo Answers has a system for adding friends/contacts and seeing their questions and activity … but Facebook has become the default social network for communicating with friends. And Facebook wants you to spread your questions around to those friends.
As you can see in the screenshots above, the question page has a link to “Ask a friend.” That works in the same way other Facebook sharing tools does. Type a name, choose the friend, and send it along.
Friends can also discover your Questions activity by default because it shows up on your wall as “Recent Activity.”
Once you begin using Facebook Questions, you’ll get a separate “Questions” tab on your profile, too. (see above) That tab should show all your activity, with options to see just your questions or just your answers … but as of this afternoon during my testing, the tab wasn’t working.
Once it’s working, this will be another easy way for friends to see one another’s activity in Questions.
Finding Questions to Answer
The direct URL for Facebook Questions is www.facebook.com/?sk=questions, but users can also access it from a menu option in the left column of the Facebook home page.
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Once there, Facebook Questions shows a selection of questions in the main content area, plus Suggested Topics and Trending Topics in the right column. A Facebook spokesperson explains that the questions you see are based on your previous Facebook activity — connections you’ve made, Pages that you’ve liked, or even where you’re from. Suggested Topics, the spokesperson says, are surfaced in the same way that Facebook suggests Pages you might like.
There’s a search box in the upper right, but it suffers from a problem that I’m all-too-familiar-with as a U2 fan:
Many sites have problems with two-character searches. But this same error message appeared on searches that were progressively longer: “seo,” “yelp,” and “piano.” (When I notified Facebook about a couple of these bugs, they gratefully reminded me that it’s a beta service and said the product team will investigate the issues.)
Once you find interesting questions, there’s a “Follow” feature that you can use to keep track of a question and its replies. This is available on all questions, whether you’ve answered it or not. That action also shows up in “Recent Activity” on your Wall.
Answering Facebook Questions
Facebook has built in the same privacy/warning message that I mentioned above when you’re about to answer your first question.
(SEOs will notice, too, that there’s an encouragement to provide links to sources that you used to find your answer. Yahoo Answers encourages this, too, but sorry … just like on Yahoo Answers, the link is no-followed. Yes, I became the first Facebook Questions spammer just so I could test this for you.)
On the right of every answer, Facebook has a checkmark and an X button — these are used to mark a reply as Helpful or Not Helpful. As those buttons are used, the replies will move up or down the page. The highest-ranked answers appear at the top and others follow in descending order.
After playing with Facebook Questions for a couple hours this afternoon, I find it to be a pretty compelling service. There are bugs in the system now during the beta period, but the potential for broad success is obvious when Questions launches to the wider Facebook community.
One of the big questions is if Facebook Questions can avoid (or survive) some of the things that plague Yahoo Answers and some other Q&A sites: spam, uninteresting chit-chat posed as a question, and so forth. If it does, it will probably be due to the size of Facebook’s user base and the depth of the personal connections that many users have made. Facebook is building a Q&A service around an existing and popular social graph; the competition, to a large degree, is trying to add social features on top of a Q&A service.