Facebook is developing a new feature that will bring it into direct competition with search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo!.

The social networking site’s Questions application is currently being beta tested by a limited number of users whose feedback will shape its eventual rollout, Facebook director of product management Blake Ross said in a blog post.

He said the feature aims to tap into the “collective knowledge” of over 500 million people to provide answers on virtually any topic.

Users will be able to post a question – for example about the best places to surf in Costa Rica – and will receive answers from nearby enthusiasts.

They will also be able to tag their queries with a particular category, such as photography or cycling, to ensure it is shown to those who have expressed an interest in that area.

Furthermore, users will be able to post a photo alongside their question or set up a poll if they are trying to choose between two or more options.

Another area where Facebook is challenging the established search engines is pay per click marketing.

Earlier this year, Melissa Mackey of Search Engine Land said brands need to “get creative” with their paid ads on social networks, as these campaigns have a higher volume of repeat visitors who see the same messages again and again.

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