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Facebook beta joins web Q&A craze

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Facebook has unveiled a limited beta of its long-rumored question-and-answer service, a tool that lets you toss questions at people who spend lots of time on Facebook.

The service is dubbed, yes, Facebook Questions.

"Millions of people ask their friends questions on Facebook every day. What new music should I listen to? Where's the best sushi place in town? How do I learn to play the piano?" reads a blog post from the company, which now boasts 500 million users.

"Facebook Questions...lets you pose questions like these to the Facebook community. With this new application, you can get a broader set of answers and learn valuable information from people knowledgeable on a range of topics."

This limited Facebook beta is similar to the limited beta introduced by Ask.com earlier this week. When you ask a question, Facebook shuttles it to people it believes will know the answer. To grease the process, you can tag questions with certain keywords, and Facebook will match those keywords to what users have listed as their interests. The site will also send the question to all your Facebook "friends." And friends of those friends.

The questions are in no way private. Facebook makes it clear that they will be available to the web at large. You have the option of browsing a database of questions and answers or "following" particular questions, which means the site will send you an alert each time a new answer is posted.

The service adds an "Ask Question" button to the top of the Facebook homepage. Or you can ask questions of particular users by posting to their profile page. You can also attach photos and polls to questions. "Wondering which video game system is better for your 8 year-old cousin: Nintendo Wii or XBox? Make a poll."

Google recently purchased Aardvark, a startup offering a service similar to Facebook Questions. And, of course, there's the old Yahoo! Answers, which does Q&A without actually routing questions to particular users. On Yahoo!, users must actively seek out answers they'd like to answer. ®

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