These days, you can ask everyone, anywhere anything, anytime.
Since the advent of the social internet, gone are the days when seeking advice required thorough investigation of forums, IRC channels, and databases. Now, we have the power to ask anyone, anywhere anything, anytime by using crowdsourcing question and answer tools. Crowdsourcing Q&A tools have been around since at least 1999; however, as the socially collaborative internet has evolved, crowdsourcing Q&A sites have become increasingly popular and useful as both new and existing tools have begun granulating into serving specific information niches – in other words, you are going to get more answers from more people who are specifically interested in what you’re trying to find out.
If you’ve thought about using crowdsourcing Q&A tools, don’t hesitate! These tools are powerful communication channels that allow you to use the collective brainpower of people from all different walks life, providing you unique & unexpected insight into your most pressing issues. This guide to crowdsourcing Q&A tools will help you decide which platform will best suit your needs and interests, while connecting you to the right audience for your questions (or answers!)
All Our Ideas is a crowdsourcing tool that you can implement as a standalone website to get collaborate feedback, answers to questions, and suggestions from users. All Our Ideas is a beautiful and simple tool (akin to the heavily marketed “Face/Off” web app, from Spigit) that enables groups to collect and prioritize ideas from the bottom up.
All Our Ideas format is elegantly simple and very effective – your question is posted above two ideas going head to head for priorization. This allows users to quickly choose which ideas are most useful. Users can also add their own ideas. The only drawback to All Our Ideas is that it doesn’t have a community that supports it – it’s meant to be used as a tool for polling your existing contacts and collaborators as opposed to presenting your questions and ideas to a large userbase.
Quora is a crowdsourcing tool to answer your questions. When you post a question to Quora, it creates a page that allows anyone to answer and discuss your question. Due to Quora’s quick growth, many questions have already been asked and answered by people with first hand experience.
Whether you’re a technologist, designer, doctor, economist, screen writer, police officer, or any other profession, Quora aims to be the easiest place for you to connect people to your questions and topics. Quora also offers a feature called “Boards,” which allow you to post anything you would like to share or glean answers about in one central repository. You can follow people’s boards, and add people as contributors to your own boards for collaborative projects.
Stack Exchange is an amalgamation of 85 technical and professional crowdsourcing question and answer sites. Stack Exchange differs from most crowdsourced Q&A sites becuase it is a network of individual communities edicated to serving experts in each field as opposed to an open forum. Stack Exchange has grown at a rapid pace since its launch.
Stack Exchange focuses on ratings and rankings for questions – when a question is useful, it’s voted up against other less clean or productive questions. The more votes your question gets, the better answer you get. Stack Exchange isn’t the place for conversation, opinions, or socializing – it’s a place for clear and specifc answers to real problems that you face. Stack Exchange originated from a site called Stack Overflow, a crowdsourced community Q&A site specifically for computer programmers to be able to help each other with technical issues.
LinkedIn Answers is the professional network’s answer to crowdsourced question and answer exchange. LinkedIn Answers is geared toward a strictly professional crowd, including IT, tech, & business. The nice thing about LinkedIn Answers is that you know that you are dealing with professionals – or at least people who care enough about their professional appearance to have a LinekdIn account.
LinkedIn Answers is also a great way for you to connect with other professionals and gain clout among your network by engaging people with questions and answers to pertinent business, tech, or strategy problems that they face. You can make yourself known on LinkedIn very easily by participating in Answers; when you post a question, it’s posted on the Answers front page, your profile, on the LinkedIn homepage of your connections, and over email. You can also choose to ask questions privately.
Yahoo Answers has been the defacto crowdsourcing tool for average internet users to ask or answer just about any kind of question. While useful, Yahoo answers is clouded with millions of questions and answers on many subjects – and there definitely isn’t the air of professionalism or quality to the answers (or the questions) that you find on other crowdsourcing Q&A sites.
Yahoo Answers has been the butt of many an internet joke as well, due to users posting unbelievable (but probably real) questions, like the one above this sentence.
FormSpring is a social network for asking and answering questions. You can easily follow other users & brands, and ask and answer questions from them. Formspring is geared toward a more mass audience, as opposed to a more niche, professional tool like Quora. With Formspring, you’re much more likely to find “fun” or “entertaining” questions, as well as certain brands and “celebrity” users that people follow.
Formspring also allows you to post what you would like to be asked about – for example, you could say that you wanted to answer questions about crowdsourcing tools for answering questions. Overall, Formspring is a great way to ask general, lifestyle, and entertainment questions to people who use the site, or use the service as a platform to launch questions for your friends on Facebook or Twitter. In the end, Formspring is a neat tool to ask people questions – just don’t expect to get very professional answers.
ChaCha is a very interesting crowdsourcing platform for answering questions – ChaCha is mainly run by advertisers and marketers, which positions ChaCha as a place to connect with brands. However, what makes ChaCha even more interesting is that ChaCha allows the average user to become a “ChaCha Guide,” a paid contractor who gets small sums of money for answering questions. While ChaCha is a great tool to get just about any question answered by a real person (some of the answers are automatically generated – for those that aren’t, that’s when a guide will get your question and respond to you). There is a heavy bias as to what kind of questions get asked on ChaCha, due to their user base (hint: young or bored) – take a look at the top ChaCha questions for the month:
In the end, ChaCha is a very unique service that allows you to quickly find answers to questions, and connect with real people who can help you find answers if the web service is unable to. ChaCha is chock-full of marketers and advertisers – but again, that is the part of the nature of ChaCha – to connect people’s questions to brands.
AnswerBag is a crowdsourcing site for answering and asking questions that prides itself on neutrality. The cool blue theme of the site and unobtrusive buttons and content lend for a very direct, quick question asking and answering experience across a wide range of topics. Answerbag sits right in the middle of other services like Formspring (entertainment) and Quora (professional / technical). Simplicity is the key to AnswerBag – and it works.
Answerbag provides a great online community to crowdsource answers to your questions, as well as give you an opportunity to answer questions. One of the best things about answer crowdsourcing is that it provides you a direct engagement channel to anyone who answers your questions, or to anyone whos questions you answer – asking and answering questions is actually a great way to promote your brand by being honest and engaging with online communities.
Answers.com isn’t just a tool for crowdsourcing answers, although it accomplishes that very well – it’s also a platform that retrieves answers to your questions from a vast repository of hundreds of respected and trusted editorial reference books. Answers.com is broken down into several sections: Answers.com, the main site, is for asking and answering questions. WikiAnswers is for specific, unique, complex, or social questions, and aims to deliver to the point answers for questions instead of general discussion. ReferenceAnswers is the supply of editorial sources that Answers.com maintains – mainly for who-is or what-is factually related questions.
In addition to the wealth of community and reference resources that Answers.com provides, they also provide access to video answers. Video Answers has over 200,000 videos in 200 categories, making it easy to find instructional and informative videos about questions you have.
LockerGnome.net is a crowdsourced community question and answer platform specific to the IT / Tech industry. Lockergnome focuses on commenting and voting to bring questions to the top – the more votes and comments, the more visible the question is. Lockergnome is moderated by its users – moderation rights are gradually assigned to members based on their “reputation.” Users gain points and authority to moderate and modify questions based on how much they participate.
Amazon Askville is a crowdsourced Q&A platform from Amazon. There isn’t anything particularly special about it, and it’s been flying under the rader since 2006. But, it’s still a full featured Q&A tool that recieves regular submissions (every minute, even.)
In addition to the wealth of crowdsourced question and answer platforms that exist by themselves, there are also Q&A tools built into existing networks like Facebook and Google+.
David Pogue (if you don’t know David, he’s the New York Times technology columnist, and also a major voice on the web regarding the state of technology) wrote a great article for Scientific American in 2010 about the advent of information crowdsourcing, highlighting services like ChaCha, Yahoo Answers, and (the now defunct) Aardvark. David provides a great perspective as to why and how people are using information crowdsourcing tools, and how to determine which tools are the best for your personal use. Although the article comes from 2010, David’s judicious analyses of the subject is still very relevant.
Wired Magazine‘s Gary Rivlin published a fantastic in-depth analyses and interview with the founders of Quora which highlights many of the issues facing the crowdsourced Q&A industry. Gary reports that many of the crowdsourced Q&A sites are facing a big issue – quality – in that so many users are signing up for Q&A services that it becomes hard to keep the good, relevant questions visible because there are too many unrelated or irrelevant questions and answers being submitted.
Crowdsourcing answers to your questions & answering questions from the crowd is an extremely effective way to gain insights, advice, and new strategies & techniques. Crowdsourcing answers allows you to engage with like minded individuals in your field – whether they be industry professional, business contacts, sales leads, or just the general public – and use their brainpower to your advantage. In addition to the advantages that you personally glean from having crowds answer your questions, you gain clout and recognition by providing your own expertise in answering questions.
In the end, crowdsourcing answers is a great way to connect with new minds, glean new insights, and promote yourself with your own knowledge and skills. No matter what questions you have or knowledge you want to share, there is a platform for you that will allow you to use the power of crowdsourcing to engage people of all walks of life in a highly conversational and interactive way.