Freewheeling question-and-answer site Formspring announced an $11.5 million second round of funding last night, led by Redpoint Ventures with Baseline Ventures participating. It also released its new “Respond” button that websites can embed to ask users questions about their content. The announcements follow tumultuous year of rising and falling traffic on Facebook and off of it. Our readers will note that the company’s name keeps appearing in our weekly AppData leaderboard posts, so here’s a closer look at the company’s Facebook integration and resulting traffic.
First, for those not familiar, the site lets users ask and answer basically any question, ranging from “What would be the best thing about being a vampire?” to “What are you doing right now?” When you log in, Formspring has a list of questions for you to answer (or delete) and you can always ask your own questions, too. It’s more like a well-designed Yahoo Answers and less of a knowledge-base question-and-answers site like Quora.
Overall, the company’s traffic has fallen from a high of 30-some million earlier in 2010 to a slowly rising 22.3 million today, according to Quantcast. On the Facebook side, Formspring originally offered a tab with questions and answers that users could put on their personal profiles. That visibility helped the company grow to a peak of 5.29 million monthly active users, according to our AppData tracking service, and may have played an important part in its site growth as well.
But Facebook removed personal profile tabs (but not Page tabs, of course) in a process that started in August and went through October, which may have driven the company’s Facebook numbers down to a low of 2.91 million as of October 13th or so. As you can see from the second graph, below, Formspring’s personal profile tabs appear to have disappeared entirely around the end of August — if you try to use the Facebook app today, you’ll see the message, above.
But Formspring spent much of the last year tweaking its core site interface, and adding easier ways for users to sign in with Facebook, find Facebook friends, and share questions back to Facebook. The result of all that work, from what we can see, is a roller coaster traffic pattern that currently seems to have flattened at around 3.90 million monthly actives as of today.
Its daily active user numbers look better. After recovering from its October low, the site has averaged around 800,000 daily actives on Facebook. Following a slight lull over the holidays, the company is now hitting its highest daily actives yet, bringing in more than 1 million yesterday.
So that’s what’s been happening with traffic. Now here’s a brief look at how the Facebook integration looks today.
After you log in with Facebook Connect, any Facebook friends you have on the site are shown to you as people you can potentially follow — following people on Formspring is anonymous. Users can login with Facebook Connect and also integrate Formspring into MySpace, Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress.
You can answer the questions and select to publish to whichever social networks you’ve authorized. Once you check the boxes, for Facebook and Twitter for example, you click “Save Answer” and the answer appears in your Facebook stream or as a tweet on Twitter. To be clear, every time you answer a question or ask a question, it appears in your stream.
You can’t invite specific people to share with, but you can blast to all your friends/followers by posting to your stream. You can tell people to “Ask me anything” or post that you’re having fun with Formspring, or to create an account or follow you. And when your friends do see it in the stream, it’s easy to see the questions (which are bolded) but not the answers (which are in light gray underneath). Other apps usually highlight users’ interactions with an app to interest their friends, not so the case here where the emphasis is more on the questions than user answers.
Formspring’s Respond button is the company’s version of a social plugin. Similar to Facebook’s Like button, it increases engagement and creates a link back to the publisher, in this case from the user’s Formspring profile. Facebook is proving how being integrated into third-party websites can entrench a web service, which can help protect it from competition. Part of the company’s new funding could be used to expand this social plugin program.