The internet is all about information, but sometimes it can be hard to sort out the answer you really need from the celebrity gossip and gadget rumors. You can email your question to friends and family, read Wikipedia articles until your eyelids droop, or even post your question to your blog. You still may not find the answer you’re trying to find. But there are some websites that are all about answering questions — it’s just a matter of taking advantage of the folks who happily hang out, just looking for questions that fall into their expertise.
My Favorite Places to Ask Questions
- LinkedIn Answers — I’ve had good luck getting answers on LinkedIn Answers. While questions on this site are supposed to focus on business, there’s a little leeway. I’ve gotten much higher quality answers here than most other sites.
- AskMeFi — The variety of questions on AskMeFi is nothing if not impressive. Today alone there are questions about water resource engineering, vacation planning and more. The folks who frequent the site seem to be able to answer just about anything.
- WikiAnswers — This site, as it happens, is a wiki where you can add a question to a particular category. You don’t have to actually wikify either questions or answers, though. The site handles that sort of thing automatically.
- Yahoo!Answers — Yahoo!Answers seems to just have more people frequenting it than any of the other sites I use to find answers. If I’ve struck out everywhere else, I head to this site. There’s a higher likelihood of getting an answer you can’t use here, just as there’s a higher chance of getting any answer at all.
Beyond these four sites, there are thousands of other sites devoted at least partially to answering questions. Heck, even Slashdot posts questions on a regular basis, allowing readers to contribute ideas. By no means should you consider this list exhaustive, and if you have a site you prefer, please mention it in the comments. I know there are plenty of sites focused on particular topics as well as forums that can help lead you to the information you’re looking for.
Crafting the Question
Not all questions get an answer, no matter which site you post it on. It’s not always an issue of whether anyone knows the answer: you may need to tweak your question-writing technique. I’ve found, for instance, really broad questions get ignored. On most sites, question answers are only spending a small amount of time answering questions. They’ll go for the easy responses first — the questions they can answer in under five minutes. With really broad questions, there is a certain feeling that whoever is asking hasn’t done any research, and no one wants to do someone’s work for them.
It can also be difficult to write a question that gets the answer you’re looking. More than once, I’ve had to rewrite and repost questions because I assumed that the folks looking at my question would be thinking the same way — maybe I assumed that everyone would think that I’d already looked into the obvious answer. That’s really not the case, though. You have to state limitations if you want people to conform to what you really want for an answer. Most sites provide plenty of room in which to write your question: it can be worthwhile to make a note of answers you’ve already looked into and discounted, or other information that can help limit your request.
Considering the Answers
Unfortunately, not everyone who hangs out on a website and types up answers to random strangers’ questions is a reliable source. Especially if you’re asking about sensitive subjects, you might get a few ‘interesting’ answers. It’s up to you to sort out the information you can really use and set aside the rest. Depending on the importance of the question, I try to do a little research to, at least, confirm the answers I’ve received. I’ve actually found that once I have an answer, it’s much easier to Google for confirmation than it was to get Google to find an answer in the first place.
There are also more than a few sites that guarantee that you can have your questions answered by experts. The major difference between these and the sites I’ve been discussing is a matter of price. As long as you don’t care about the quality of your answers, you can get them for free. If you need something a little more reliable, though, it might just be worth investing in a few minutes of an expert’s time.
Give Back a Few Answers of Your Own
While spending all day on AskMeFi, answering every question you can, may not seem like a good time to you, it still may be worth your while to spend a little time on one of the various answer sites. It can be a good way to kill time, especially if you stick to the relatively simple questions, but some people do it for other reasons. Many members of LinkedIn, for instance, answer questions to help build up their reputations as experts in particular subjects. Other sites award points for good answers, although some points systems may be arbitrary and I’m still not sure what value most of those points have. No matter what the reward, though, I firmly believe that answering questions gets my brain going and are probably better than the many YouTube videos I could be spending my time on instead.