Facebook Questions beta is the social site's most recent feature launch. It allows users to crowdsource their own questions by submitting them to all of Facebook's 500 million users as well as to all their friends. This seemingly 'innocent' feature is in fact a powerful tool that challenges all 'traditional' search engines, photo search engines and location-based services. Here's why.
Ask Anything, From Trivial To Crucial
The Facebook Questions feature is easy to use, if you read the company's blog post: the option will show up among the posting choices on your status box, like this :
500 Million-Strong Source
So far, it has been rolled out to a limited number of users, and for instance, it's not showing up on my profile yet. But once you have the option, you may just submit your question to anyone of your over 500 million peers who also use the platform. It can be any sort of question - technical, shopping advice, outing location, entertainment... you name it. Leveraging the population of the world's third largest virtual country to answer your questions, from the most trivial to the most crucial ones, is clearly what gives this tool great power. This is real crowdsourcing.
Yahoo Answers, Ask.com, Bing Entertainment, Google Image Search, Yelp... All In One
The first thing that springs to mind is that Ask.com, who announced it is refocusing on its original Q&A model may well have to find another strategy to regain market share in the search business.
But mostly, Facebook Questions is a real social 'weapon' as it is able to deliver services that so far were provided by numerous different sites, in a fragmented way. In short, if you need a restaurant suggestion or pointers on which show to go to, forget about Yelp, and just go for Facebook Questions. This reminds a little of Bing Entertainment but the feature still fails to go all the way Bing's "fun" hub goes. Should you have a specific query on a technical topic, don't go anywhere else but on Facebook Questions where, among over 500 million people, you are bound to find experts in the field you're looking at. If you have been bird spotting or seen a really beautiful flower you forgot the name of, just post it on Facebook Questions, the answer should come to you - there's no need for the likes of Google Image Search or Nachofoto, for example.
Targeted Crowdsourcing And Polling
To top it all, Facebook Questions also allows users to add a poll to the questions they ask. This option makes the new feature very useful for brands advertising on the platform or willing to crowdsource their next product/service content, look and feel. However, Facebook doesn't specify whether its Questions will be available on pages too or not and whether it'll be a free service or not for brands/marketers. The question is all the more relevant as the questions can be addressed to targeted groups: friends or specialists by topic. The list of available topics is available in a scroll box and clicking on the one you want will send your query straight to those Facebook users with either an interest or expertise in the given field. You can also choose to leave it in the "everything" category. Then, to keep track of the replies, opting in to "follow" (as on Twitter) the thread will get you to receive notifications every time someone answers.
Here's an example of a question under the "everything" category.
Global Wiki/Knowledge Management
If you're not the kind to ask questions, you can still benefit from all the knowledge around by simply browsing through all the questions that have been asked and replied upon. In that respect, it's also a wiki but with real time answers. Knowledge management necessarily implies search. And this is the next question raised by Search Engine Land.
Search Engines Please Keep Out
Facebook told Search Engine Land that search engines currently have no access to Facebook Questions and the perspective of that happening is not likely just yet: "That may be something we consider for the future but have no current plans to allow it," was the actual comment.
Search Engine Land showed that the query site:facebook.com/questions/ yielded only a few results on Google and none from the past 24 hours while Yahoo and Bing were literally blind, with zero results. The publication commented: "It's odd that Facebook would want to ignore that traffic source entirely. Don't be surprised if this policy changes ». To be honest, I'm not so sure. Yes, it would drive traffic but first, with its 500 million users, does Facebook really need that? And more importantly, the social platform is known for testing its search capacities, which, added to the new Facebook Questions power feature will turn it into a social search giant...
One more element that should be considered is Facebook Credits. Why? Because Facebook has been "paying" people who have responded to Questions with Facebook Credits. Our source for this: users around us who have thus been rewarded. So now what is really going on there? Where would be the social site's interest for giving search engines access to its Facebook Questions content?
Food for thought there. Which option would bring more revenue and ultimately value on the long term?