Facebook released a very important feature recently, called “Facebook Answers,” which it hopes will leverage the power of our social networks to find the answers to the questions we may have. This is a big turn for Facebook and will have ripple effects throughout the industry. The dust has yet to settle, but here are 10 of the top things to watch in the coming months as Facebook Answers rolls out.
1) Another Step to Make Facebook Public?[login]Facebook knows that open systems tend to succeed on the Web. Ironically, the strength of Facebook has been its ability to create a private environment for people’s social networks. In the past 12 months that has changed as Facebook fumbled every attempt to be less private. And this is another step in the direction of Facebook’s date being more public. Facebook wants to create data that can be accessible from search engines and compete with other Answers sites. They have not yet officially stated this, but a number of their previous actions are indicative of a move in this direction.
2) Competing with Other Answers SitesAs it stands now, Facebook Answers data will be publically accessible. That data will not yet be available via Google or other search engines, but there is an industry-wide agreement that this is where Facebook wants to go as soon as they can manage to get away with it. If Facebook made their data easily accessible via search engines, it would put Facebook in direct competition with Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, and a number of other Answers sites that have been around for many years and consistently spring up in niches across the Web. Now we partly understand why there has been such a collective movement against the Facebook privacy blunders throughout the recent year. The outcry was largely coming from stakeholders in other Answers companies.
3) Facebook Claim: This Will Bring More People TogetherI feel this is a marketing spin on things. The way the majority of the regular users have used Facebook was to stay in touch with current and past friends. People who tended to accumulate large numbers of “friends,” whom they met once or barely knew, tended to have a less pleasant user experience while reading their feed. I imagine Facebook Answers will worsen this effect after people “friending” strangers who answered their question, which will fill their news feeds with topics they don’t care about from people they do not know.
4) The Rise of the “Answer Celebrity”Yes, the answer celebrity will be a Web hit two-to-six months from now. Inevitably there will be some people who will want to show their vast worldly knowledge and answer a majority of the questions. Then someone will do a story on these people, and the person with the most answers will become an Internet sensation.
5) Facebook Needed More than Just GamesUp to now, people had two main things to do on Facebook: 1) partake in social activities or 2) play games. Both of these activities have been coming under pressure from competition. Game companies like Zynga have been taking steps to isolate their games away from being available on Facebook only. On the social side, Twitter has given Facebook more than a run for its money on social communication aspect of social networking. Facebook Answers, as much as anything else, could be a way for Facebook to reinvent itself and offer more to its users. Also, scaring the life (literally) out of many answers sites out there does not hurt if Facebook wants to make an acquisition in that space.
6) Facebook Answers: Will it Succeed?It’s a good time to speculate on whether Facebook Answers will fail or succeed. No one knows what the future will hold. My feeling is that Facebook answers will have to be a very benign part of the site. Facebook already has too many bells and whistles for most people’s tastes. The huge user base switch from MySpace to Facebook was largely due to Facebook’s pleasant and easy-to-use interface. Now Facebook has a complex feature set that changes often without much explanation to users. The design is becoming too crowded and too busy. Hopefully Facebook Answers does not make the site more cumbersome. So far the Answers feature has made the status-update feature (a very popular feature) more complex and less intuitive to use.
7) Facebook Forcing People to Use the Question FeatureFacebook will never admit it, but it is taking a controlling approach to pushing out the Answers feature. In simple UX theory, if you want a site visitor do to something, place the option to use that feature in a spot where their eyes are looking. Now, every time I try to update my status, I have to take an extra step to update the status because I have to choose whether it is an answer or not. Facebook knowingly placed the option to use the Answers feature where people look when they want to update their status.
To me, that is a bit heavy-handed and is the kind of approach which turned many people away from Google Buzz. Buzz has failed to get wide traction for many reasons, but one common complaint at the time it was launched was that people didn’t like how it just appeared in important parts of their familiar pages and was too intrusive. The same could be the argued about Facebook Answers.