After nearly a year of private beta testing, Facebook has released a new version of its Questions feature. The new release is available in a limited public beta, and while it will become available much more broadly than the private beta, right now it's still only offered in English.
Questions now takes the focus off public inquiries (a market already dominated by various Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora). Instead, it focuses on soliciting recommendations from friends. Facebook argues that while multiple places on the Internet allow you to ask questions to the general population, very few allow you to get responses directly from your friends, and so that's what the social networking giant is focusing on (check out my quick hands-on Photo Gallery).
All questions are still public, and answers by all users to the same question are listed on the same page. The difference is that each user gets a personalized view of the responses, ranked by what their friends voted on. Think of each answer as an anonymous poll where your friends' answers are emphasized.
Users can either add their own response, or just check a box to agree with answers already given by others. Specific places or products can be quickly included by linking to the appropriate Facebook page. Users can still ask open-ended questions on the service if they want to, but the News Feed will mostly highlight requests for advice from friends.
The updated version will first be rolled out to current testers. When they start asking questions, the feature will automatically be pushed to their friends. This is what I mean by "limited" - it's not just offered to a select few beta testers, but it will mainly spread through the networks of friends on the site. That being said, if you don't want to wait for one of your friends to ask a question on their profile in order to use the new feature, you can get opt in yourself by navigating to facebook.com/questions.
"Like many of our products, Questions originated as people began using Facebook in a new and unexpected way," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "People would update their status with a question, and their friends would answer in the comments. We saw this and began thinking about how we could make this interaction more useful. Over the summer, we began testing Questions with a small group of people, and today we are beginning to roll it out to everyone."