Facebook has redesigned its Questions feature, in what seems to be an admission that the original version wasn’t getting much traction. The new version launched Thursday, and will gradually be introduced to all users over the next few months. The original feature tried to connect people by letting them ask questions with any Facebook user — even a complete stranger — who shared an interest in the topic. The redesign takes the complete opposite approach and is aimed at making it easy for friends to answer questions. The move seems designed in part to set the Facebook feature apart from a number of popular Q&A services such as Quora.
The original version of Questions was rolled out to a small group of users last year. Facebook project manager Adrian Graham wouldn’t say exactly how many, but said it was a fairly small percentage of the social network’s user base. Those beta testers will be the first to get the upgrade, although others will be able to opt-in to the new version through the Facebook Questions page, and anyone who answers a question posted by a friend will also be invited to join the new service.
Graham said when Questions first launched, the focus was “on connecting you to people you didn’t know” who might share an interest in the topic of the question. So if you asked about hotels in San Francisco, the site would show the question to users who had expressed an interest in that by including travel or hotels or San Francisco on their profiles, favorites and fan pages. That made it seem pretty similar to what was being offered by sites like Quora — which was founded by former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo — and, at one point, there appeared to be some bad blood between the two sites.
Graham says the new version of Questions takes “the complete opposite” approach, and tries to make it easy for friends to answer questions from other friends, regardless of whether they have already expressed an interest in that topic. In addition to posting a simple answer, Facebook shows what other people in a person’s social network have answered, and allows users to simply pick one of those responses and add their votes to it.
The new version of Questions is also designed to take advantage of the viral nature of the giant social network by making it easier for users to share questions and answers with their social graph — something the original iteration didn’t do, Graham admitted. “This version is much more similar to the way questions commonly get answered,” he said. “You ask a friend and then they say ‘Oh, I know someone who knows the answer to that’ and they pass it on.” There’s also a poll-style function that lets you ask a question and provide some sample answers for people to vote on.
The changes appear to be designed in part to set Facebook’s feature apart from Quora, but also from Twitter — which many people use as a source of answers to common questions about where to eat or what to buy. “There are lots of places on the Internet where you can get answers from people you don’t know,” said Graham, “but there aren’t many places where you can quickly get answers from your friends.”
If anything, the changes make it obvious that the focus of the original version of Questions was a mistake, because it didn’t take advantage of the single most powerful thing that Facebook has going for it: an intimate connection to your entire social graph.