Social information seeking (SIS) was – and continues to be – the impetus behind the emergence of social Q&A sites such as WikiAnswers, Yahoo! Answers, Ask.com, and so on. SIS studies the motivations and methods for people seeking information online, and helps in building support systems for these activities. The Q&A community has gradually evolved over time to give rise to further specialized Q&A services such as Quora, FormSpring and JustAnswer, to name a few. Most of these services are communal, but some are pay-based. This evolution is an indicator of the value the public continues to place on interactive knowledge, how social perceptions have changed over the period of a decade, and how people interact within a social space.
What is Social Q&A and How Does It Work?
The concept of Social Q&A lies in providing users with a forum to ask any question, and get answers from a community of users. Users may submit questions in common vernacular, and answers would be returned likewise. Users may find out anything they would want to know without having to look it up themselves – this concept is similar to using a Customer Service Knowledge Base, but has evolved into a way more personal experience. Instead of simply reading off a static dictionary response, the answers forums provide a platform for personalized answers from the self-styled “experts” in the field. The recent resurgence of online Q&A communities indicates that there continues to be no dearth of avenues when it comes to getting information from these services.
What Are The Potential Motivating Factors behind Social Q&A Communities?
The Internet caters to people who want information immediately. A number of services are delivered faster over the Internet; from books to applications, users have a single-click, immediate access. With social Q&A, information is provided immediately as well.
With the emergence of smartphones and the mobile Internet, Q&A communities are able to cater better to the “I-want-it-now” generation. Answers for any range of questions are readily available; take for example, when a debate arises about the best restaurant in an area, you just need to look it up. Mobile Internet and Q&A communities are evolving together to provide easier, more accessible ways to information to an inquisitive society.
Other factors, such as the recession, may also necessitate the need for Q&A communities. When people cannot afford to hire experts and professionals for any particular concern, they turn to the next best resource – the Internet. This need has brought life to Q&A communities such as Healthysparx.com – a site specific to the health care community, or StackOverflow.com – a community for programmers. These Social Q&A sites allow people to get answers to their questions in a more personalized way.
Timeline of the Q&A Evolution:
Let’s take a look at some of the more popular Q&A sites which have come up – and made known by their users – over the years, in chronological order:
Inception Date: Ask.com, formally known as Ask Jeeves, was founded in 1996. The company changed names to Ask.com in 2006. This community allows its users the ability to ask questions in a flowing, conversational language and receive answers to the same. The concept behind this service was based on the idea of having a digital butler.
Inception Date: A service known as FAQ Farm was launched in 2002 by Chris Whitten. Later, in 2006, the site became known as WikiAnswers after an acquisition by Answers Corporation. WikiAnswers is a wiki-based website that allows users to submit and answer questions. Users post answers to existing questions, and any answer can be edited by other people in the community.
Inception Date: JustAnswer was created in 2003 by Andy Kurtzig. This Q&A site connects visitors to experts who have been verified by the company. Every expert’s credentials and licenses are examined by a professional licensing agency to verify their expertise and ability to answer questions in their respective fields. Experts also have to pass a subject matter test, which are accounted for along with their credentials to determine if they are let in to answer questions on the site. Experts from a wide range of categories, including medical, legal, technical, automotive, and veterinary, are available to answer questions. Answers are generally provided in a short timeframe depending on the amount that a user has agreed to pay upfront. If the user is unsatisfied with an answer provided, no payment is required.
Inception Date: Yahoo! Answers was launched in June 2005 as a replacement for Ask Yahoo!, an earlier Q&A service provided by Yahoo!. This Q&A service is community driven and provides answers to common questions on any subject area one can think of. Members of the community contribute to the question and answer process, and points are earned for participation. Yahoo! Answers is currently available in 12 different languages.
Inception Date: FormSpring was launched in November 2009. FormSpring requires users to set up a profile page prior to asking and providing answers to questions. The ability to follow other users is also available. Questions and their responses are published on the user’s profile page. User names can be hidden, but not all respondents answer questions posted by anonymous users, for obvious reasons. Verified accounts are also available.
Inception Date: Quora was founded in June 2009, but it was not made available to the public until June 2010. Quora encourages collaboration by inviting the community to ask questions and submit answers on a variety of topics. Users have to register on the site first to ask – and provide solutions to – questions.
The social and informational aspects of these Q&A sites are, undoubtedly, invaluable – what remains to be seen is how they continue to evolve their services to make for a more convenient, seamless experience for their users, over time.
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