While Facebook users have been posting questions and providing answers to their friends on a variety of topics for years, the company is now rolling out a new feature specifically designed for this type of exchange.
Called Questions and in limited testing since last summer, the feature is now being gradually activated for all Facebook users, the company said on Thursday.
The hope is that the asking of questions and the submitting of responses will now be labeled as such, thus triggering a specific interface and functionality specifically designed for that process, as opposed to doing it as regular status updates.
"Like many of our products, Questions originated as people began using Facebook in a new and unexpected way. People would update their status with a question, and their friends would answer in the comments. We saw this and began thinking about how we could make this interaction more useful," wrote Adrian Graham, a Facebook Questions product manager, in a blog post.
Questions is designed to make the process of posting queries and responses convenient and fast. For example, it lets users answer some questions by simply clicking on an option or instead actually typing in an answer. Also, to amplify the pool of potential respondents, friends of a friend who answer a question are also given a chance to post a response.
Online services that let people ask questions and post answers have been popular for years, but the consensus is that there is yet to be a convincingly convenient model for doing this.
For example, search engines have taken a crack at this with various degrees of success: Google failed with its Answers product years ago, but its acquisition of startup Aardvark in early 2010 shows it hasn't given up on this space.
Meanwhile, Yahoo Answers has fared much better and Ask.com has redesigned its search engine around this question-and-answer model. People also resort to online discussion forums to engage in this Q&A exchanges.
As Facebook Questions becomes widely available on the site, it will be interesting to see if the company can leverage its massive network of personal connections to end up owning the preferred online tool for questions and answers.
Already one other social network, LinkedIn, has a Q&A feature, although that site centers on work-related, professional interactions, giving it a focus that by and large is more complementary than overlapping with Facebook.
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