I discovered this morning that I had access to Facebook Questions. I got excited (that’s significant, I’ll explain) and after fooling around with it for about 20 minutes I’ve quickly come to several conclusions:
- It will deepen Facebook engagement for many people
- It will get massive usage out of the gate
- It’s only partly about local (but still could be significant there)
- It’s needs a search mechanism because it will soon be too big for “browse”
Questions is potentially very “useful” and has the capacity to become the “killer app” that Facebook has never really had in my opinion.
I put “useful” in quotes because Facebook, for me, has historically been about sharing images, opinions and generally having “silly fun” vs. accomplishing anything practical and “useful.” That’s always been the domain of search. This has also been the reason I’ve unfavorably compared Facebook to Google in terms of “utility.” See, for example, my SEL post Facebook “Search War” With Google Mostly Sound And Fury. That’s one post among several where I argue “search is useful,” Facebook is fun.
Questions is both practical and fun — and represents an alternative to search in some respects. I’m not going to forgo search when I want to figure out things to do in Homer, Alaska but I could well use Questions in parallel or even as a primary resource, if I can get results:
Facebook has done a really nice job in most respects here. I can edit and delete questions easily. I can add polls to questions. I can ask only my own network, as opposed to everyone (Questions is public by default).
The answers/discussions that can arise through Questions have the potentially to be very detailed and complete:
Facebook also encourages you to add URLs and even asks you to speak in complete sentences:
All good so far.
The challenge comes over time in getting the right people to the right questions; it’s largely about self selection at the moment unless questions are specifically directed to my network. In addition managing this product’s potentially explosive growth (and the archive associated with that) will be a challenge.
Right now you browse questions and categories:
I might be one of several “right” people to answer selected questions. How will Facebook ensure that I get those questions (other than from my network) over time? That’s not clear to me. Yahoo Answers suffers from widely variable quality because of self-selection. Aardvark is/was very smart about routing questions and Quora uses the “follow” mechanism to ensure I’m involved in discussions. Apparently Facebook Questions offers a tagging capability that will categorize people but I didn’t run across it this morning.
The other issue is search. Why should I reinvent the wheel every time if there are great answers to questions I want to ask? But currently there doesn’t appear to be any way to search past questions — I realize this is just 24 hours old in public beta. There needs to be some search capability otherwise there’s going to be a lot of duplication and overall quality will suffer.
There’s also an SEO/spam issue here. Smart people will quickly realize that Questions could be a back door into SEO or broad exposure on Facebook. So just as there’s “comment spam” on blogs we might see people trying to insert themselves and their links in discussions to get traffic: “Wow, this is a really great question, see my site xyz.com.”
I’m sure Facebook has thought this angle through, as well as many of the issues I’ve raised. Nonetheless, these are not insignificant challenges.
Notwithstanding my critiques, this the first thing that Facebook has done in a very long time that I find genuinely exciting — as well as useful.
How will this affect competitive products (e.g., Yahoo Answers, Ask Answers, kgb)? It remains to be seen. In one scenario Questions just wins because of its sheer potential scale and giant “built-in” audience. In another this fuels a “culture” of human answers that supports some or many of these other products and indirectly helps them grow as well. And there are a number of imaginable outcomes in-between.
But what if Questions itself doesn’t take off? Not a chance. If it can address some of the issues I raised to ensure quality and maximum usefulness, Facebook will have its first bona fide “killer app” in my opinion.
A final note for third parties and the directory industry. People have been using Facebook connect for some time to extend their reach, and now some (LikeList, Buzz’d) are aggregating Facebook Like data. What about this?
Will third parties get to tap into Questions through an API? If so Questions could become the backbone of lots of Q&A offerings on third party sites such as Canada’s Yellow Pages Group:
Not being a developer or engineer I can conceptually imagine the challenges of integrating Questions here (you’d have to filter by geography among other things). But I don’t how actually easy or difficult it would be to do as a practical matter. Stay tuned on that one.