Remember when MySpace was crashing all the time and the stupid Pac Man game was showing up because the site was “overloaded” with traffic? Even if you weren’t a MySpace user back then, all you need to know is the frequency of MySpace going down due to technical issues was one of the main reasons Facebook was so successful. Facebook has been able to keep the site up despite the rapid growth in traffic, however with the company’s new questions product, Facebook doesn’t look as much like an original technological innovator.
Quora Takes Real-Time To A New Level
Quora’s interface is clean and user-friendly. The most remarkable aspect of it is how the site incorporates a lot of the functionality you would expect in a desktop application: growl notifications, real-time updates, and user-friendly search tools that make the site easy to navigate. Granted, scaling such a service to 500 million users as Facebook has is much more difficult. However one can see how challenges that the Quora team faced while working within Facebook would have become a headache.
Many hackers would prefer playing with new technologies than to solve the problems of how to scale a product to 500 million people. It’s not to suggest that either technical challenge is not an exciting one. It’s just that solving such problems for your own company, with new technologies that have been made available in recent years, can be much more exciting.
Facebook Questions Flaws
Before taking a look at the battle between Quora and the new Facebook Questions product, I thought it would be useful to highlight some of the obvious flaws with Facebook questions as it exists today. Many of these will be resolved before the company rolls out the product to all users, however some of these issues are pretty basic:
- No link home from within questions – How do I get to the Questions home screen? Right now there’s only one link to get there, and that’s from the sidebar on the Facebook Homepage. If you are viewing a question, there’s no way to get back to the main questions feed. This navigational flaw is seriously annoying and it’s somewhat surprising that this didn’t come up in alpha testing.
- Adding topics is unintuitive – Right now the process for adding topics to a question within the Facebook Questions product is unintuitive. The box for adding topics is buried under other elements within the sidebar, however this is a core feature of the product. Adding topics increases the ability for others to discover the question. Simply put, topics should be promoted to a more significant position. Perhaps this is where Facebook could copy Quora again?
- How do you ask a question? – If you’re viewing a question currently, there’s no way to create a new question. Yes, I’m serious! Facebook wants people creating questions, however the only way to do so is from within the publisher. There’s also a way to create a question from within the search box on the questions homepage, however it’s not obvious that entering something in the search box will actually do anything aside from search.
My initial impression is that the Questions product didn’t go through much of a Q/A process or that the user experience person tasked with the project made some significant mistakes. Granted, Facebook is calling this a “Beta” product, but right now there are some serious navigational issues.
Facebook Vs Quora
Despite the fact that the Facebook Questions product has some significant design flaws, many of these issues can be quickly changed. When viewing the product from the broader perspective, Facebook Questions has overnight become an integral component of Facebook. So integral, that it has been promoted above Facebook Photos, Facebook’s most popular product, within the navigational sidebar and within the publisher. This is a major statement from Facebook, making it pretty obvious that the company has great expectations for the Questions product.
So can Facebook’s 500 million user base take on the extremely young Quora product? Right now, many of the core users at Quora are extremely active and the game dynamics keeps users coming back daily. While Facebook Questions may not be able to kill off the core Quora community, Facebook has definitely made it more challenging for Quora to become a mass market product. As the two products move toward each other in similarities, it’s going to be much more intuitive to just ask the question on Facebook than to visit another site.
While many will point to the differences of Quora versus Facebook, as they proudly exclaim that Quora will never die, it’s much easier for Facebook to steal Quora’s innovative features than for Quora to build a community of hundreds of millions of users. For what it’s worth, I’m an active Quora user and will continue to be as I love the community there, however when it comes to building a Q&A product with hundreds of millions of users, Facebook may have already put the nail in the coffin.
The young and agile Quora may make Facebook look like a slow moving behemoth, as MySpace appeared in comparison to Facebook, however Facebook may have just pushed Quora out of the mass consumer Q&A market, just as Google has previously done to so many young startups.