Facebook recently launched their new Q&A product, aptly named Facebook Questions.
The Q&A space is white hot right now, in large part because of the SEO potential of the content. Q&A, if done correctly, creates highly focused long tail content that gets gobbled up by search engines. Look no further than Demand Media's eHow as an example.
But is that what Facebook has in mind for Questions?
Facebook Questions Not Crawlable
Search Engine Land reported that Facebook Questions could not be crawled by search engines, and that Facebook has no plans to change that policy. The news was surprising, resurfacing the notion of the walled garden and sending mixed signals on Facebook's strategy.
Facebook Search Powers Questions
In the first few days after launch Facebook search would force users into Questions whenever a search started with the five Ws or one H. Facebook search results would shift to Questions after you entered one of those interrogative words and then hit the space bar. This search feature is no longer active. (Sadly, I did not capture this behavior.)
Perhaps it was a simple test or Facebook pushed enough traffic through the product to receive the necessary amount of feedback. Either way, it showed the power of Facebook search (both in flexibility and volume) and pointed to a reason for not allowing search engines to crawl and index Questions. Does Facebook need traffic from outside the walled garden?
Questions and the Open Graph
Where things get confusing is why Facebook is pursuing Questions and the Open Graph in parallel. There are plenty of other Q&A sites out there. Many of them are using the Open Graph protocol.
Questions from other sites could easily show up in Facebook search results. So, why build a whole new product if you could just suck in content from everyone else? Conversely, if you were going to spend the resources to build that product and create all that content, wouldn't you expose it to search engines so you could attract more users to Facebook? (Yes, that's still possible.)
Of course, Facebook might want just one more product that will keep people on Facebook. And the longer users are on the site, the more often they're clicking on ads and performing searches.
Articles are Second Class Open Graph Objects
Questions would be classified as an 'article' type in the Open Graph. Yet, articles seem like second class citizens in the Open Graph. Reports indicate that an object is not created for a page with og:type=article. This also means you can't administrate likes on article content. In other words, you can't publish to people who have liked an 'article' on your site or blog.
So, maybe Facebook is trying to create its own content instead of indexing what's already out there? Again, this seems contrary to the Open Graph concept. Yet, if you believe status updates are a form of content publishing, then perhaps Facebook believes they can be the ultimate content creator.
Facebook Questions SEO
Of course, sites are getting around the article prohibition. Answers.com is now populating the Open Graph with their content using the 'website' type.
While Facebook frowns on this, it's the way smart search marketers are going to work the system.
Creator or Aggregator
The Open Graph would indicate that Facebook wants to be an aggregator, to suck more and more of the Internet into the walled garden, allowing their users to find Internet content on Facebook's terms - through the news feed and through Facebook search.
Questions would indicate that Facebook wants to be a creator, generating content as a way of keeping, attracting and engaging users. Though making them invisible to search engines takes attracting users out of the equation.
Which does Facebook want to be? Who knows, maybe both. But my money is on aggregator given the purchase of FriendFeed, promotion of Bret Taylor to CTO, advancements in type ahead search and roll out of the Open Graph.