I am going to take a quick little dab at Facebook’s Question product. I am sure many of you would have noticed the sideways-charts-like icon sitting pretty beside the status icon on your news feed. I was excited to see a new product from Facebook that dramatically changes the way we interact with our small (or big) network of Facebook friends as well as the larger 600MM Facebook network. However, I was quite disappointed with some of the really obvious gotchas in – content discovery, noise-reduction and users/answers ranking. Why? This tool/product promises so much and yet manages to fail on some key areas that matter from Facebook’s perspective – User Acquisition, User Interaction and Retention.
Comeon. Let’s get our hands dirty.
Your Facebook is one of the most visited websites in the whole “internets”. Yes. You. Your News Feed page. You don’t believe me? Please see time spent on the web here and social networking here. Let’s just say most users spending time online spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook than any other website. If I had to quantify that statement with the limited information I have, it is atleast 3X the time spent on Google which is by far the leader of the top-10 websites in the world pack- please see here. Analyzing each one of the “key areas” I mentioned above and some more:
1. User acquisition. Does not seem to be a problem for Facebook. It’s at 600MM users and growing. But, new product launches that alter user behavior will definitely need a “warming up” period to see if the product gains traction. New product adoption hinges on how easily the product is delivered to the user, the learning curve involved and how relevant (read interesting) it is for the user. In that respect, what percentage of the 600MM users would use Question and what percentage would really use it to ask a Question of their friends. That is the Question Facebook (pun intended) will try to answer with product improvements and more customer feedback.
My Verdict: Fantastic Job! I would temper that with the set of questions.. is Facebook rolling out Question to facilitate a rich source of quality answers/information, does FB have a set of rules to weed out noise or if not, is Question just a simple and handy polling tool? There does not seem to be a convincing answer for each of these questions.
2. Question Product. While Question hits the ball out of the park for the ease with which it is delivered to the user and learning curve involved. It is still a far cry from being relevant – purely, from a content discovery perspective. Ofcourse, that’s only my opinion and maybe, others think differently. I say that because I see a lot of noise rather than questions/polls I deem relevant. However, if you see it as a product line extension to Status updates with questions seeking information about the best pizzeria in North Beach, San Francisco etc., it is an amazing tool.
3. User Interaction. Facebook has done a fantastic job of integrating Question at two levels that I believe are a core user-experience on Facebook. (a) Share status messages, links, questions etc., at the top of your Facebook page and as an (b) Application listed along with other applications such as photos, notes, groups, games, Marketplace etc. at the left-bottom. What is interesting is that Question doesn’t feature along with Messages or Events at the Left-Top which seems like a natural place for a new product to be rolled out. I’m sure the good folks @FB would have discussed this very question and figured Left-Bottom is the place to go. It is important to remember, all of this holds good only for the homepage and not your profile page where Questions features along with your Info, Photos, Notes and Friends at the Left-Top. This locations seems like a natural-fit and is probably a very good choice for a new product and a product such as Question.
My Verdict: Sharing Questions and using Questions is a breeze. It is just not relevant or robust enough at this stage for a wholesome experience. Not to mention the lack of features such as discovering and following interesting topics etc.
4. User Retention. This is going to take time and multiple iterations. Going by past record, Facebook really has its ears glued to what its users are asking and I believe, will continue to improve and iterate over Questions for the better and faster than most others would have you believe. If, say, Facebook hoped to tap into even just 1% of its regular users (assuming 200MM – 1/3rd of its current 600MM users) in the first month, I’m quite certain they succeeded, infact, I would bet more than 1MM users use Question. Of that 1MM, how many would continue to use it actively? What is the product position? Is it (as mentioned-above) a substitute for some status messages or is it just another application that you do not mute in the hopes of seeing some relevant news 1 in 10 posts? The answer seems to be yes and yes for both. Now, that’s a problem. You can’t be everything to everyone. Assuming, savvy users will figure out what to do with a product leaves a lot open to risk and consumer behavior. I doubt that is what some of the smart folks @FB intended. I would ask how do they plan to engage users if they plan to go beyond a status message substitute? How do they plan to allow users to look for topics of interest and discover questions aligned with their interest? Sure, I can “follow” questions but how do I get there in the first place? I am convinced it has to be easier if the method’s already available, it has escaped me completely.
My Verdict: One problem that Facebook has answered and is continuing to improve upon is slicing and dicing all its data to present in a very simple format for all the users. It is an exponential problem for a product such as Questions though. How do you ensure the right topics, Questions are provided to the user? How do you eliminate all the myriad “noise” sources to enable users to get to data they find interesting and relevant. In other words, how do you retain users or how do you enable users to actively use your product as compared to infrequently?
What can be done?
a) Clarify Customers: Yes. Question can be rolled out to all Facebook users. But, depending on who is targeted, the use-case and flow would obviously change. Hence, clarifying who the target customers are should be the first task. In other words, if Question is just a “sharing” method to ask questions of your core network of friends, Question is good as it is. Ofcourse, it needs to improve in how it is delivered in the news feed etc. but it is a great start. However, if Question was intended to be a Quora like service (as Facebook seems to tout the product), focus more on setting it up as an application/page along with notes and allowing sharing your questions/answers with your friends based on topics/questions you frequent. In fact, following high-quality users “experts” could be turned on as well. Although, I’m not sure, if that feature’s something Facebook would consider enabling. I don’t see why not though. It just gets a little messy unless rules are setup automatically to exclude personal information, wall-posts etc from being visible to users who follow you through Questions. This reinforces my belief that Question is better served as a separate application/page rather than just a “sharing-tool”.
b) Clarify Positioning: Depending on the choice of target customers, Question needs to be refocused for that target segment. Or at the very least, features allowing such users to engage with other similar users and use Question need to be delivered. I believe this would be an important step in articulating what the product can do and how it can be used. Why? Well, if I wanted to follow topics, if I wanted to follow some “experts”, if I wanted to have Questions/Answers delivered in a more intuitive way and not just as a list of Questions my friends answered, I don’t have a choice now. I am going to have to sift through all the information on my news feed or the Questions page to get to interesting Questions or topics.
c) Question Product (My Strategy): The answers to the above 2 questions would help create more relevant use-cases and product features including its position on your Facebook Page’s real estate. If I were to redo Question, here’s what I would do:
1) Separate Question into 2 products: One a dumbed-down, simpler “poll” version that can be used in the News Feed to share with my friends that I would call Facebook Ask and another full-fledged product, Facebook Questions, directly competing with Quora (atleast, a part of Quora’s market) and/or the market Quora doesn’t necessarily address – soccer-moms (eg., best recipe for home-cooked 10-min pasta), uber-geeks (eg., how best to setup a wordpress account), soccer-dads (eg., how to file state taxes without getting swindled by a local tax agent) etc. I think these questions/topics often lend themselves well to a majority of the Facebook users without estranging some sections. For example, a discussion on QE3 may not be an ideal discussion over a cup of joe on Facebook.
2) Design Use-cases and Flows for each product allowing Discovery: In the early stages, obviously, there isn’t a lot of data (questions/answers) to be discovered. But, with millions of users, it would be easy to build a huge database in a matter of weeks or months. Considering the 2nd Question product geared towards segments I described above, use-cases intentionally designed to encourage relevant content discovery would ensure Question gains traction quickly and as desired.
4) Monetization: 2 Revenue Channels would be partners such as NYTimes, Forbes etc and clients advertising on the Facebook ad platform. Imagine, a tax service such as H&R Block advertising on a Question about the best tax agent in Palo alto luring potential customers with discounts and engaging customers with good-quality answers and not spam. This is just the tip of the ice-berg of possibilities.
Lastly, I will leave you with some more recent news that describes online advertising to be a bigger market than print media. Facebook can not only take a piece of the print media advertising, internet advertising but also, TV advertising. In fact, most companies are using a social media campaign in tandem with their usual advertising channels and as Question gains traction, you will see more engagement from companies going above and beyond a Facebook Page.
As always, that’s my 2C and it has been done with limited time and research. So, take it all with a liberal dose of salt.