It’s kind of funny that I actually found out about Facebook’s new Q&A service via bemused comments on Twitter. Those actually popped up on my radar a bit before Facebook’s actual announcement —
Facebook Questions (in beta) is a new part of Facebook that allows you to ask questions of everyone on Facebook. Yup. Everyone. And if you already have concerns about Facebook’s privacy issues, don’t use this new feature, because any questions you ask will, by default, be public and available to anyone on Facebook. (If you have a question like Should I be worried about this rash?, save it for a status update on your wall.)
The questions feature lives in a menu selection on the left part of your Facebook home page. I decided to test the service by asking a question I really needed answered — the best antivirus/Internet Security for Windows 7, 64-bit. I didn’t find an easy way to specify what category I wanted to use — Facebook seemed to pick the category itself based on keywords in my question.
I asked my question, and then a day or so later tried to go back to the question’s page to get a screenshot for this writeup. No good. I can’t get to the question’s permanent page, and I can’t even get to the answers. (So the questions will be open and public, for a given value of open, public, pageload, and if-I-see-that-spinny-cursor-thing-one-more-time-I’m-gonna-cuss.) Fortunately the answers are also e-mailed to you.
According to my e-mail the question got five answers. The first was from a friend on Facebook, the others were from people I don’t know. There was no snark, just honest, polite opinion. I guess I was expecting something like the anarchy of Yahoo Answers (which does have good content, but also has a lot of answerbombing) and instead got something closer to LinkedIn or Ask Metafilter (my gold standards for question-and-answer communities.)
The problem of course is that Facebook makes it hard to get to the content. I should not have had to dig into my e-mail’s trashcan to get to these great responses. I also can’t browse other questions. I go to the Questions part of my Facebook page. It says there are three questions about Ubuntu, so I try to browse them. Facebook pulls away the football — there are actually no questions about Ubuntu. But there are 34 questions about computers, Facebook notes. So I click on that category. NIX, saith Facebook. There are no questions about computers. But there are 38 questions about sports…
At that point I gave up. From what I could tell from the answers I got, Facebook has a community that’s ready to be helpful in answering questions. Sadly Facebook’s Q&A service has an infrastructure that’s ready to give me an ulcer.
Update: Wednesday — I got Facebook to show me an individual question page! Here’s what it looks like:
(It is my understanding that currently these questions are viewable only with in Facebook, so I had concerns about showing user names and avatars outside the confines of that community. So I blurred full names and avatars. I apologize if it seems excessive, but I figure with an issue of privacy it’s better to do too much to protect it than too little. All these answers were wonderful so if you’re one of the ones who left them leave me a comment and I will give you link love.)
As you can see, Facebook shows the answers and gives you the option to vote them up or down. You can follow a question to see new answers as they’re added, and if a question is offensive you can report it, of course. And if you’re bored with a question you can explore one of the other ones that Facebook helpfully provides you on the answer page.
This is pretty basic, but I like the voting. I just wish I had gotten to explore this page more when I was doing the writeup!
Isn’t it strange that you can’t go back to a permanent page for your question – and the answers. You have to keep track of what people email you. Not very useful in my opinion.
It has to be a bug. I can’t imagine it’s actually SUPPOSED to be like that.
EDIT: Yeah, apparently it was a bug…
And, I’m sure you’ve seen that Facebook is not allowing search engines to crawl these questions. Sigh.
I will never argue the usefulness of Facebook in connecting with friends and family – especially as more and more families are geographically distant these days.
But Facebook seems determined to return the Web to AOL’s old walled-garden days. Sigh. How does blocking these questions from search engines benefit Facebook in the least?
If you find a question in a search engine, you’d need to go to Facebook to review the answers – and you’d see whatever advertising Facebook was displaying in the process of reviewing those answers. Facebook’s rivalry with Google is going to lead to some broken user experiences in accessing the information you’re interested in.