Hitwise reported that U.S. visits to question and answer sites increased 118% from last year, with Yahoo Answers gleaning 74% of the traffic. In second place was WikiAnswers, from Answers.com. Third was Answerbag and fourth was Ask MetaFilter. Hitwise interprets the popularity of the Q&A sites as showing the importance of the social network in sharing knowledge contributed by community experts. If the popularity is so great, why did Google leave this particular playing field? Also, it strikes me that the quality of the questions is often not very high. In fact, many of them simply reflect the laziness of the questioner. Not only do they not know how to frame a good question, they don’t really care to lift a finger to try and find information on their own. Research apparently consists of asking the question online. The quality of the answers varies tremendously and does not always reflect either knowledge or expertise. A major exception is WikiAnswers, which grounds its answering mechanism in trusted, reliable sources.
I suppose there is room in the information world for trivia questions, but glorifying both trivial (which is not exactly the same thing as trivia) questions and answers based on opinion rather than facts rubs me the wrong way. I do sincerely hope that, when the question-askers have something of real import to ask, they won’t rely 100% on any of these Q&A sites, but will look for qualified answer sources. Yes, like librarians! And researchers who cite their sources.
Speaking of expertise, the next issue (May/June 2008) of ONLINE will have an article by Bobby Brody exploring some "real" expert sites. She begins by defining expertise, then notes you can find experts at places like professional and trade associations, government agencies, executive network sites such as LinkedIn, and Who’s Who type publications.