Facebook is making its long-awaited debut in the red-hot questions and answers space today. It’s launching a new product to about 5 million users today that lets them publicly ask and answer questions.
You can ask questions directly from the status update box on the homepage or on your profile, and you can search for answers from the search box at the top of the page. Every question and answer is completely public. Facebook is being very clear about setting this expectation.
Led by Facebook director of product Blake Ross, questions could be a powerful competitor to Google, especially since answers are searchable on Facebook.com. Why turn to a search engine when you can see answers crowdsourced from 500 million users? (Google won’t be able to index Facebook Questions for now, but it is something the company would consider, spokesperson Meredith Chin said.)
Questions are organized by tags so they can be passed to people who might be knowledgeable about them.
You can also post photos to ask questions if you want to know what model a certain car is or what kind of tree you’re walking past. You can also create polls and have people vote on them.
Q-and-A is a well-trodden area, with plenty of companies like Quora, Google-owned Aardvark, Hunch, PeerPong, Formspring.me and the revamped Ask.com that launched this week. But none of these companies are giving question and answer systems the eyeballs that Facebook can. (Aardvark remains tucked away in Google Labs.)
Ross has emphasized that Facebook Questions will focus on light, short-form answers, unlike rival Quora, which was co-founded by the social network’s first chief technology officer Adam D’Angelo.
“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.
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).”