Social networking software

Facebook Questions: Hands On

Facebook recently launched a new question-and-answer feature that helps supply answers to important questions such as "Where's the best burger in New York City?" or "Which smartphone do you use?" The new feature lets you ask questions of your friends, set up a poll with a limited number of responses, and follow interesting questions asked by others. Questions is now rolling out to all users, but if you want to get started right away you can activate Facebook Questions here. Facebook's new question service has been in limited beta testing since July.

Facebook Question (click to enlarge)
Once it's activated, the new tool shows up at the top of your News Feed as a share option along with status updates, links, photos, and video. There is also an option in the left navigation column so you can see your friends' activity along with results from questions you have asked and answered.

Straight Question or Poll?

If you want to ask a question, just click on "Question" at the top of your News Feed and ask away.

Facebook Poll (click to enlarge)
Let's say you wanted to ask your friends "Which sandwich chain do you prefer?" Just type in the question and then you have the option to set specific answers such as Jimmy John's, Subway, Pita Pit, and so on. You can also decide whether you want to let people add more possible answers or restrict them to a specific set of responses.

When you set your poll responses, Facebook searches for fan pages related to the answers you are supplying. Typing in Subway, for example, connects that answer to Subway's fan page. It's not clear if fan pages will have access to the data generated from answers supplied by Facebook users. Once you're satisfied with your question, just hit the "Ask Question" button and your query will show up in your friends' News Feeds.

Any time someone responds to your questions, you will get a Facebook notification letting you know.

Not Private

The first time you ask a question using Facebook's new feature, a warning shows up letting you know that Facebook Questions are not private. Questions are visible to your friends, who can also share them with their friends, and so on. In other words, anyone on Facebook could potentially see and respond to questions asked by you. In my tests, my questions did not appear on my publicly available Facebook profile; however, your experience may differ depending on your privacy settings.

Facebook Privacy (click to enlarge)
To see how much of your profile is visible to people who are not your friends, Click on "Account" in the upper right corner and select "Privacy Settings." On the next page, click on "View Settings" underneath the heading "Connecting on Facebook." At the top of the next page, you should see a button that says "Preview My Profile." This will let you see how your profile looks to people on Facebook who aren't your friends.

Just keep in mind that even though Questions may not show up on your publicly available profile, the feature is never private.

Answering Questions

When you see a question in your News Feed that you want to answer, clicking on the question will cause a window to pop up. You can then choose to select a specific answer or simply write a response as if you were responding to a status update.

Answers (click to enlarge)
By default, the response window will also show you how your friends answered the question. But you can also see how everyone else on Facebook answered the question by clicking on the "Others" link at the bottom of the window. To see responses to poll questions, click on the small window with three dots next to each answer. This will show you the answers of people who aren't your Facebook friends.

Again, Facebook Questions is not a private feature, so all actions you take using this service can be seen by others. Do not use Facebook Questions if don't want the world to see your responses.

Follow a Question, Ask Your Friends

If you want to follow a particularly interesting question you can click on the "Follow" link underneath the question. Whenever someone else answers the question you will be alerted.

Questions (click to enlarge)
You do not have to answer a question to follow it. You can also ask specific friends a question created by you or by others by clicking on the "Ask Friends" link underneath each question.

Be Specific

My question (click to enlarge)
To get the most out of Facebook Questions, it's best to be specific in your questions and not ask something generic such as "Am I A Jerk?" As you can see in the included image, generic questions can get passed around very quickly among people who don't even know you. Then again, asking random things of the whole world could end up being half the fun of Facebook Questions.

If you can't get enough of asking and answering questions you should also check out a popular service among early adopters called Quora.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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