Facebook Questions: An old idea with the same shortcomings

Facebook is rolling out a new feature called Questions, but just like with all user-based forums, Facebookers can never know just how accurate the answers will be.

There's a new feature being rolled out on Facebook today that's trying to tap into the wisdom of the Facebook community - but the jury is still out on whether Facebook will have any more luck with this than Yahoo has had with iits Answers feature or support sites have had with user forums.

The idea behind Facebook Questions is simple: ask a question to the greater Facebook community - that's 500 million people and counting - to get an answer. The reasoning behind the feature is that many of us already do this on our Wall posts and status updates, polling our friends on restaurant recommendations, movie reviews, gifts for a 3-year-old nephew and so on.

So why not tap the wisdom of the greater crowd? I'll tell you why not - but first, let's hear what Facebook had to say about Q&A. From its blog post:

Facebook Questions helps you tap into the collective knowledge of the more than 500 million people on Facebook. For example, if you're vacationing in Costa Rica and want to know the best places to surf, you can use Facebook Questions to get answers from nearby surfing enthusiasts. Because questions will also appear to your friends and their friends, you'll receive answers that are more personalized to you... After you ask a question, you have the option of adding a photo or a poll. Want to know what type of flower is growing in your back yard? Take a photo and attach it to the question. Wondering which video game system is better for your 8 year-old cousin: Nintendo Wii or XBox? Make a poll.

OK, in concept, it sounds like a great idea. But why should I trust the answer of a friend of a friend? I don't know that person. I don't know if he has a college degree in the subject at-hand or if he's passing along misinformation that he picked up from something random he might have read.

So when someone responds to that "What type of flower is this that's growing in my yard?" question, how do I know he or she is right? If I get multiple answers, clearly someone is wrong - but passed along that information as if it's right.

And because Facebook is putting the Q&As on the full Internet - and not just within Facebook - those wrong answers will be out on the Internet for anyone to find with a Google search. Isn't there already enough of that coming out of random support forums?

At least with my own group of Facebook friends, I have a strong sense of who's passing along good information or bad information based on what I know about these people in the real world.

I do recognize that there can be some value in tapping into the knowledge base of the masses. Yelp, after all, has built an entire business model around it. And that's not to say that Facebook can't make this work, too.

As for me, I think I'll just keep posting questions on my status update and hope for solid answers from people I already know and trust.

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