Online Answer Services

For this post I looked at “Mahalo Answers, WikiAnswers, YahooAnswers and AllExperts.

All of these sites are peppered with advertising and I don’t care for that but it does keep them free so I ignored the ads as best I could.

The appearance and layout of most sites I’ve glanced at contributed to my perceiving the sites as a variant of the social network phenomena and not as a reputable venue for getting questions answered. I’ve glanced at answer sites in the past and pretty much ignored them because I question their accuracy and credibility.

I thought a bit more about my perception of the answer sites as variants of the “social networking” model. I’ve come to the conclusion that websites are affected, just as people are, by the “first impressions” phenomenon. Case in point: the appearance and layout of WikiAnswers ( was immediately off-putting and I stopped browsing the site within minutes.

In addition, WikiAnswers and Mahalo Answers both struck me as sites for asking networking and opinion questions thus I was also left questioning the reliability of the replies to the true information seeking type of questions.

There were features in AllExperts and Yahoo Answers that helped distinguish these sites from the others sites I looked at. The sidebar in AllExperts, where the responder lists his/her “credentials for answering a given question was a a feature I appreciated, it helped me evaluate the value (trustworthiness) of the answers. The disclaimer page was another feature that enhanced the “credibility” of the site. The “ABOUT feature in YahooAnswers served the same purpose for me.

I think the appeal of such sites in general is the anonymity of them, and the similarity to social networking sites such as Facebook. The networking element may be why there are questions posed that a librarian would not get (eg relationship, March Madness etc). I suspect it will take a bit of time for me to think of these types of sites as truly reliable sources.

I was unaware of the SlamBoards but think it is a novel, innovative way to market ourselves and skills, services librarians can offer. The paradigm shift information and knowledge are undergoing calls for innovating thinking and risk taking and getting out there, answering questions and identifying ourselves as librarians, may well indeed connect with users of the answer sites.

I am a fan of the online library comic “Unshelved” and recently Unshelved has developed a QA site for readers of the strip. Most users appear to be librarians but that is not all bad. Unshelved Answers is a way for us to help fellow librarians and others – find information they need.


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