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Facebook fine-tunes its Questions product

Once relatively isolated within Facebook, Questions now has new features that tie it more tightly into the social network's fabric and encourage more people to contribute on the fly.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
The new 'dashboard' for Facebook Questions, emphasizing quick, poll-like answers for social recommendations. Facebook

Facebook announced today some notable updates to its Q&A product, Facebook Questions--updates that knit it tightly into the broader Facebook experience, making it far less of an isolated feature. More specifically, the new Facebook Questions facilitates short, poll-like answers in addition to long-form responses, and also links directly to relevant items in Facebook's directory of "fan pages." That's something that's very relevant if you're asking a question about, say, movie recommendations or a good restaurant to visit.

The new Facebook Questions will be available as a limited beta first, though interested users can opt in as well. It's currently restricted to Facebook members who have set their default language to English.

The methodology here is that Facebook Questions is where you'd go to get your friends' insight and recommendations, product manager Adrian Graham explained to CNET. "The way in which we've designed the product is that you ask a question and then it spreads to all of your friends via feed, and then if they participate in it, it spreads to all their friends," Graham said. An improved "questions dashboard" aggregates friends' questions, and the poll-like format sorts answers in terms of popularity.

Graham joined Facebook last summer when it acquired a start-up called NextStop--which offered short local reviews and travel recommendations--and shut the product down after bringing its small team, including Graham, on board. The influence of a team that built a reviews and recommendations product is quite visible in this new edition of Questions. "There's definitely certain things we learned that I think will help inform this," Graham told CNET.

In my opinion, this is a fascinating and impressive revamp for Facebook Questions--and one that moves it further away, rather than closer to question-and-answer start-up Quora, the geek darling founded by two ex-Facebookers that some speculated Facebook was trying to "kill." Quora's answers tend to be practically essays in length, and by focusing on areas of interest, responses are just as likely (if not more so) to come from experts within a field rather than an individual's social network.

But not everybody's going to want to type out long, Quora-like answers when it comes to recommending a movie, a restaurant, or a travel suggestion.

"If they don't actually take the time to do it, or it feels like too much work, they just won't do it," Graham said.

By emphasizing short answers and how easily questions can spread through Facebook's web of social connections, Facebook is reaching out to the people outside Quora's insidery fishbowl--and veering into the territory of other companies that are fine-tuning social recommendation features, like Yelp and Foursquare.