Facebook is taking on question-and-answer search services such as Quora, Google’s Aardvark and Hunch with a new application that aims to test the knowledge of the 500 million-plus members of the social network.
Launched in beta July 28 to a limited number of people, Facebook Questions lets users pose any kind of query to anyone on Facebook.
The user experience for Questions feels native to Facebook. Users will click an “Ask Question” button at the top of the homepage, or ask questions about friends from their profiles right within the context of Facebook’s Walls.
When a question is posed, users may jazz up the experience by adding a photo or poll.
Questions may also be tagged with a specific topic to reach the most “relevant people and ensure the best answers,” said Blake Ross, Facebook’s director of product management.
“For instance, if you have a question about what type of camera you should buy, you could tag it with ‘Photography,'” Ross said in a blog post. “If you want to find the best bike routes in the area, you might tag it with ‘Cycling.'”
Tagging themes will also show those interested in a topic what other questions people are asking about those subjects.
Users have browsing options for Questions. They may browse answers from people with “deep knowledge on a topic” or click “Follow” under any question to receive a notification each time someone submits a new answer.
Users may also browse through all of the questions to help find those they may have never thought to ask.
To do this, they will select “Everything” from the “Questions about” drop-down menu at the top of the application. Then they can click “Next Question” to see questions and share answers.
Ross warned people to be wary of what they ask. All questions and answers posted using the Questions application are public and visible to everyone on the Internet.
The service comes at an interesting time in a market for question-and-answer Web services that includes the revamped Yahoo Answers and Ask.com, and up-and-comers such as Aardvark and Hunch. Google also just bought Metaweb to help answer more complex questions.
However, the most interesting competition Facebook Questions poses could be to Quora, which was formed by former Facebook engineers Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo.
Quora appears to be the most popular Q&A service among the technorati and has already sparked numerous story ideas and topics.
D’Angelo, for example, fed the rumor mill by confirming that Google is building a social network to challenge Facebook.