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The Quest for a Better Answer

February 19, 2011

Photo: Flickr user walknbosto

I’ve always thought Q&A sites were doomed to fail.  Who has the time to sit around and answer questions in a timely, quality manner (a la reference librarians) for free?

Sure, every once and a while I type a question into Google and find myself on Yahoo Answers or eHow.com.  But I always find myself disappointed.  Yes, sometimes there’s a hint of something good in somebody’s response, but even then I never have any idea who is providing me with the answer.  How am I supposed to trust an online personality represented by a cartoon-like avatar and some dumb screename like “i luv penguins”?   And if I have an original question that hasn’t yet been answered on one of these sites, I lack the patience to wait for somebody to respond.  I prefer to actively run web searches on the topic.

However, it’s obvious that not everyone has given up on these sites yet.  A NY Times article recently described a new round of Q & A sites that are being pumped out, including Quora.  While this site attempts to solve the issue of credibility, it hasn’t solved the issue of response speed, and David Pogue writes that usability of the site is poor.  Pogue prefers Aardvark, a site that was recently bought up by Google, but in my experience, the site is also plagued by slow response time.

And so, my own opinion is that these sites aren’t going to truly work until the Semantic Web emerges.  Until then, Q&A sites may improve, but will not give us exactly what we want.

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