Facebook has launched in beta a question-and-answer feature that lets users tap the collective knowledge of the millions of other people on the site.
Called Facebook Questions, the new service introduced Wednesday appears as an "Ask Question" button at the top of users' homepages. The feature is initially available only to a limited number of people, but the site plans to roll it out to everyone as quickly as possible, depending on users' feedback.
The idea behind the service is to let people tap Facebook's 500 million users to get answers to questions about any topic, from music and restaurants to where to learn to play the piano and the best surfing spots in Costa Rica. The questions are made available to everyone on the Internet, so a person should only pose questions they don't mind sharing with strangers.
Along with their questions, people can send photos and conduct polls. So, for example, if a person wants to identify a bug in their backyard, they can take a picture and send it to the Facebook community. If a person wants to know people's opinion of Apple's latest iPhone, he can take a poll through the service.
To help Facebook direct questions to the most relevant people, users are asked to tag their queries under specific topics. Based on the tags, the site will organize questions in categories, such as politics, cooking and marathon training, to help people find information on particular topics.
Users can click a "Follow" button under a particular question and get alerts when new answers are sent.
Using an online community for Q&A is not new. Other sites that have similar services include Quora, Yahoo Answers and Aardvark. But Facebook is unique because of the size of its community, which is the largest social network on the web.
Beyond providing a useful service, Facebook Questions will also provide the site with more information on the likes, dislikes and interests of its members, which is likely to be useful to future advertisers. In the first quarter of this year, Facebook surpassed Yahoo as the leader in the online display advertising market with 176 billion display ad impressions, which represented more than 16% of the market.