Another nail in the coffin of how-things-used-to-be-done with details emerging of how Facebook is developing a new service to allow anyone to become an expert.
At the most basic level the Facebook Questions product, currently being tested in-house at Facebook and as part of a private beta, is a system that will be included in the network to allow people to ask simple questions (something that already happens a lot through status updates).
Friends and those within a friend's own network can offer a response to the question, with each answer then aggregated on a page where other users can simply click on a tick or cross icon to state whether it was valuable or not.
As part of a move to attract people to the beta test, Facebook has given a few example questions:
- What are the main differences between Google Chrome and Internet Explorer?
- What are women looking for in a relationship?
- What methods has BP tried to clean up the oil spill?
- What should I do to prepare for the Bar exam?
- How did The Beatles find success?
But what if the questions were like these:
- What is the best hotel for a romantic view of the Seine in Paris?
- Can I travel from London to Bangkok with a stop in Mumbai?
- Where is the cheapest car rental booth at Atlanta airport?
In one swift move Facebook has the potential to make every user a travel expert, an agent with a fountain of knowledge about travel destinations and products.
The argument that there will be too many so-called experts and actually not a lot of valuable advice is countered by the addition of the ratings system (similar to Yahoo Answers), effectively pushing the daft or useless responses down the pecking order and ensuring the valuable content stays at the top.
Facebook, according to leaked screenshots of the application, will include a search tool within the system, presumably to let users browse through related questions that are already answered and ranked.
So what makes this development at Facebook so intriguing for travel and different from other Q&A systems on the web, such as Yahoo Answers and the recently launched Quora?
- The first thing to note here is scale. Facebook has over 400 million users worldwide, giving it a huge opportunity to tap into the knowledge base of members, a huge proportion of which have experience of travel and, as everyone knows, enjoying sharing their experiences (the vast quantities of travel-related images and video on the service testifies to that).
- Facebook's social graph (and the philosophy behind the Like button) is based on the idea of creating trust between users as they interact with content seen on the site and elsewhere on the web. A person becomes a trustworthy source of content to their friends, so the same principle applies with the Questions project - they can become a reliable resource of travel advice to the wider network.
- This is not just about individuals. Facebook allows and encourages companies to create profiles through Fan pages or Groups (as many now do). Companies would be able to get involved with Questions, meaning they could create an entire service around providing responses to travellers on Facebook.
- Once again, if a source of valuable information is a company and their kudos soars then (through their Fan pages) they will have the opportunity to push the user to another level of interaction, or even a product sale on their site. This idea becomes even more compelling when booking and payment modules on Facebook become the norm rather than just the idea of a few.
- Nothing confirmed by Facebook at this stage, but Questions content - privacy settings notwithstanding, of course - may well be available on the wider web through search, opening up a whole host of optimisation requirements.
Finally, it doesn't take a huge jump to envisage a programme where travel companies nurture and then give incentives to individuals that have a good record of offering valuable advice in order that they push people to their products.
It's the intermediary and commission model all over again. Except the intermediaries are, well, effectively everyone.