Over the last few days, Facebook has turned off its new Facebook Questions product for a significant portion of those who’ve had access since its beta launch on July 28th. Those whose access has been rolled back now see the old status publisher above their news feed, and no longer see the Questions navigation link in the home page left sidebar or the recent Questions panel in the right sidebar. While Facebook frequently turns on and off new products and features for small, unwitting tester bases, this large-scale roll back of a relatively widely used product is unusual.
When reached for comment Facebook tells us that “we’re currently still testing Questions with beta users and iterating on the product based on user feedback. We’ll be rolling out to more users as soon as possible” and separately, “We turn it off for some users based on the test we are running. You and your friends may be in the group that has it turned off.”
Reports of the rollback span across networks. Anyone with rescinded access who tries to follow a Facebook Questions permalink like this one is kicked back to the “Sorry, we’re not ready for you yet” page — same as what those who’ve never had Questions access see when trying to use the product.
Upon launch, some criticized the new status publisher that accompanied Questions. It hides the “What’s on your mind?” update prompt behind a row of buttons, reducing the prominence of the publisher as a whole, and forcing users to choose in advance whether they’d like to update their status, ask a question, upload a photo, or post a link. The new design prevented users from indiscriminately dropping a URL into the status field to automatically morph the status publisher into a link publisher. We thought the new publisher might reduce status update frequency while encouraging the other types of publishing, and that it also made link posting more difficult.
The rollback may just be some downtime while Facebook integrates changes or new features into Questions. Alternatively, it could be to test how the different publishers affect frequency of different update types. When Facebook restores Questions or we find out more details about the rollback, we’ll be here to keep you informed.
Update: Facebook Questions Product Manager Blake Ross has informed us that Questions has only been rolled out to 0.05% of the Facebook user base, or roughly 250,000 users. Therefore, even a rollback from a significant portion of these testers “is much smaller than many of the tests that we turn on and off every day.” The temporary rollback has now ended, and Facebook has reactivated Questions for all who have previously had access.
He also explains that while the new publisher was originally rolled out alongside Questions, the two products are not officially linked. “[The new publisher] will be rolling out more broadly on its own timeline in the near future, independently of the Questions rollout. Furthermore, we’ve run tests on it and found that it does not increase sharing.”
Facebook may be searching for a redesign of the publisher which does increase sharing, as those with restored access to Questions are seeing a slightly different version of the new publisher. A Video button has been added to the publisher options, and the titles of the existing buttons have been shortened.