Facebook Redesigns Questions Product for Quick Polling and Recommendations

Facebook has overhauled the design of its questions and answers product Questions, refocusing it on quickly polling friends and getting recommendations instead of seeking long-form answers and following topics. Questions is now more lightweight, viral and a more seamless part of the Facebook experience that will appeal to a wide audience, rather than a niche destination.

The new Questions product becomes available today to the beta tester group who had access to the old product as well as to anyone who’s specifically asked a question, and those who opt in at www.facebook.com/questions. Questions will initially be available to English language users, but will roll out internationally over the next few weeks.

Facebook originally launched the old Questions product to a very small percentage of the total user base in July, as low as 0.05% or 250,000 users. However, the interface was heavy and buggy, asking users answer in well-cited paragraphs. It didn’t gain sufficient traction.

The project manager Adrian Graham says the new Questions product is modeled after the way people ask questions in the real world. Instead of being public, a question is visible only to the friends of those who asked or answered it. There are no privacy controls or ways to ask private questions, but Graham says users have private messages and privacy-controlled status updates for asking questions to limited audience.

Going forward, Questions will concentrate on helping users get recommendations and opinions such as “What’s your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?” or “What album are listening to most right now?” instead of more factual information such as “What is quantum entanglement?” or “Where does Facebook have ad sales offices?”

The most innovative changes to the product include the ability to easily give recommendations of things represented by a Facebook Page or Place through a type-ahead, and the option to endorse an existing answer, making it one’s own rather than upvoting.

How Questions Works?

Users ask Questions from a tab in the news feed publisher. The Question is published to a user’s stream and any of their friends can view it. Questions can be made free-response, pre-set answer choices can be provided in poll format, and users can enable others to add answer choices. Users also have the option to ask a specific friend, generating a notification leading back to the question.

When a friend clicks on a news feed story about a Question, a pop-up appears allowing them to answer without losing their place in the feed. Instead of upvoting or downvoting answers, users either provide a new answer or endorse an existing one. Typing in a new poll choice opens a type-ahead drop-down menu of matching Pages and Places. Once answered, their friends can see and answer the question as well.

At the top of the answer page for polls, an answer summary appears, ranking answers by those with the most endorsements by friends. A blue bar on each answer represents how often it was endorsed by a combination of friends and non-friends. For free-response, users see a list of answers by friends by default, but can switch to a non-friends tab.

Users are notified when friends answer their Questions, or of any answers if they’ve selected to follow the Question. There are no options to manage Questions notifications. Users will retain access to their content from the old Questions product.

Questions will not appear on Pages that happen to be answer choices, and there will be no Insights analytics for the product, limiting its potential as a marketing tool. Pages may ask questions of their fans via the news feed, and answer questions, leading them to appear on their wall.

Opinions Over Facts

From watching users interact with the old product, Facebook learned that users more often asked for the opinions and recommendations of friends than a scientific answer. It also saw that users wanted to be able to answer questions without necessarily writing anything. The redesign facilitates these use cases with added emphasis on friends as a question’s audience, facepile answer summaries that rank based only on responses of friends, and endorsements.

Users were already asking for opinions and recommendations via status updates, but Questions provides more structure and promotes participation. The redesign brings Questions back within the core functionality of Facebook, rather tacking it on as a stodgy, high-minded knowledge base.

Services like Quora are already providing factual questions and answer sites for the small audience who need them. Facebook has made an intelligent product pivot (which we suggested last May), addressing the much larger need for a mainstream casual, social questions and answers experience, but with authenticated identity to preserve quality. By refocusing Questions, Facebook can return to solving a big problem while allowing smaller players to serve the niches.