The Internet has forever changed the way we learn, share, and gather information. From Wikipedia to Google, our ability to consume a topic of knowledge is easier now than it ever has been. However, some topics have few reliable sources, while others lead you down worm holes of opinion blogs with little to no consensus.
Quora, Reddit’s Ask Me Anything, and Twitter’s Verified Accounts try to address the problem of finding reliable information and answers to difficult questions. By connecting you directly with the content authorities, these new services take the guessing out of credibility. Questions like, “What is it like to work at X?” or “How does this very specific model of physics work?” now have places which house the answers.
Quora.com provides an open framework for users to ask questions and then tries to sync up other users who have insight into those particular questions. Because Quora tries to match questions with experts, most questions are answered by users with authority on the content. Answers are voted on, which further filters out bad answers and encourages good ones. This gives users the unique ability to influence reliability and, generally, the topic expert’s answers will surface. For example, on a recent question about “What’s the worst thing about working at Facebook?”, employees from Facebook commented on Quora providing feedback that, until now, would have been scattered throughout the web and hardly searchable.
Quora also offers users the ability to edit the way a question was asked, and allows users to connect people with questions they feel the user could answer. For example, Quora attempts to answer questions on a local level. As I use the service, I am commonly asked to answer questions about Grand Rapids, MI. Knowing you’re getting local information from a person who actually lives there adds to the credibility.
I highly recommend signing up for Quora and reading their daily digest as a great way to find cool and verified tidbits.
Reddit – Ask Me Anything
Reddit’s Ask Me Anything also allows users to post questions and has become popular enough to attract big name celebrities ranging from Bill Murray to President Obama. In contrast to Quora, AMA usually starts with a post from a self-described “expert,” giving users the chance to ask the expert anything.
Reddit’s AMA can be overwhelming at times. Threads get long, and the minimalistic design of Reddit causes the reading experience to be rather lack-luster. AMA becomes a large thread of hard-to-read Q&A lines when an AMA celebrity enters. Recently I came across Interviewly which takes AMA threads and presents them in a very easy to read format.
AMA and Quora are similar in the way that they try to connect user questions with expert answers, but they operate differently. Where as Quora tries more for a social platform, AMA is a Q&A board. AMA has become the leader for user-based Q&A content generation. The sheer number of users filtering AMA answers causes questions to be answered by many leading experts; opinions are quickly filtered to the back. Quora goes further to try and filter out content experts where AMA counts on users voting to do this filtering.
Twitter’s Verified Accounts, unlike the Q&A services above, provide a way to verify famous individuals and know their information is from a reliable source. Before Twitter, individuals would have to run their own blog as an outlet for this type of information. Now, Twitter has taken this one step further. Verified Accounts allows for this information to be in one place, as well as adding that extra stamp of verification.
Quora, AMA, and Verified Accounts aren’t the only sites giving users more reliable information. There are plenty of other examples of this pattern emerging to solve this verified-information-need, and I’m excited to see what’s next and how many more of my childhood heroes will allow us to ask them anything.