Question everythingLinkedIn Axes Answers

Categories: Q&A
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Published on: January 24, 2013

Question Everything

LinkedIn Answers Going Away

I was disappointed to get an email the other day from LinkedIn saying that they are closing down their Answers section. I can’t say I was a great expert on it, but I did enjoy writing the occasional answer and I thought the questions asked there were better phrased, more professional, and easier to answer than elsewhere. Now, LinkedIn is certainly able to make this decision, and maybe they are right to do so, but I will still miss it.

And on that point, I’d like to talk about some of the question and answer sites out there and how they can help you establish yourself, your personal brand, and your professional brand. There are people with questions out there; answer them!

What are Answer Engines?

The availability of answers on the Internet is legendary. You don’t need a question and answer site when you have a simple question. Who was that actor? IMDB.com What was John Lennon’s band name after the Beatles broke up? Wikipedia.org Just about anything else? Google.com (or Bing.com). So, why do we need answer engines?

It’s because the Internet’s power to answer questions is largely limited to three things: simple, academic answers, “discussions” (usually arguments or anonymous insults), and pre-written articles. Now, that’s not much of a limitation at all! But there are times when you have a question and need more than that. You need the opinion of experts based on your unique question. And when that happens, it’s nice to have a place where your question can get the attention and response it deserves.

Of course, asking is only half of the equation. While coming up with a topic and blogging or writing an article about it is great, sometimes you need to get down and find out what people want to know in the field that you are an expert about. And it doesn’t hurt to put your expertise out there for everyone to see and admire, especially if you have something to market!

Yahoo Answers

I first started answering questions on Yahoo Answers about eight years ago. The concept was great! You get points for answering questions, and you use the points to ask your own. Of course, many people, myself included, just racked up points by answering question after question, and getting the occasional coveted top answer.

The years and the trials and tribulations of Yahoo have done nothing to tarnish the use or reputation of Yahoo’s answer site. And it seems the more distractions the web presents us with, the more we tend to go back to what we know and what works. On the other hand, I did prefer LinkedIn’s answer site because I feel like the questions and answers were more professional. Questions on Yahoo answers tend to be things like: “how do i plug my x-box into a monitor?” or “my homework says to read Shakespeare, can you tell me who that is?” etc. Still, there are gems in there if you are patient and search. And, I should mention that at my day job Yahoo Answers is one of the top referral sites in the social media sphere. It’s hard to argue with results.

Quora

That doesn’t mean a newcomer can’t change the game. Quora.com burst on the scene in 2010 and was quickly heralded as the next social media tool to be a part of. Well… I don’t know if that actually happened the way they predicted. It’s still a great site, though. I personally don’t like the clutter, and the site seems to load slow for me. However, if you want to real mother of all question databases, Quora is it.

Now, Quora has recently added blogging capabilities! If you are like me, that took you by surprise, at first. What do the two have to do with one another? Quora says it best on their site: “At Quora we believe great writers deserve readers.” That’s actually really prophetic and I think a great thing for those of us who write online. Whether or not you are into slogging through questions to find the one that you can answer unlike anyone else, Quora is definitely a place for you to shine if you can write.

Ask.com Q&A Community

I admit I have very little experience with Ask.com. I used Ask Jeeves a few times in its hey-day, but since they decided to become less a search engine and more a question and answer directory, I kinda lost interest. I checked it out before publishing this post because I still think it is a big player. My impression of it is that it is a mix of all sorts of social sites. It has the 140 character limit of Twitter (at least for the initial question… I checked and a few questions were more than 140 characters, so there must be some way around it), it has the vote up of Quora (in this case, you vote if the answer is “helpful”), and some goofy things that I think would seem more at home on Yahoo (like the “fun” vote, for instance). The audience on there seems younger, too, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing especially if you happen to be an expert in solving some of the problems they typically have.

Again, I don’t have too much experience with Ask.com. If you have more and want to share, leave a comment!

How to Take Advantage

Ok, so now I’m going to give you some simple pieces of advice for using an answer engine.

  1. First, read the question all the way through. That doesn’t seem to be a problem with Ask due to the character limit, but I’ve seen so many people read the first line of a question and give an off-the-cuff answer that is embarrassingly awkward to those who read the whole thing. If you don’t have time to read the whole question, I recommend just moving on to a shorter question rather than making a fool of yourself.
  2. Make your answer count. Some people seem to answer questions with a flare for simplicity. I’m not sure if they want themselves to seem smarter because they could answer the question in one sentence, of if they think they are some sort of one-liner geniuses. Unfortunately, these answers that make it look like you dashed off without a second thought are a waste of time. Very very rarely have I seen a one-sentence answer that makes me think the author is so brilliant he didn’t need to think to make the answer. Instead, they seem like self-indulgent trolls. Don’t be like that.
  3. Offer a little research. I completely understand the frustration with questions that could be answered with a simple search. One of my boss’s favorite phrases is “JFGI”, which stands for “Just F’n Google It”. If you get a question that is that simple and it frustrates you, you’re probably better off not answering then if you gave some sort of a snarky reply. However, there are other times where it would be nice if you could offer a reference to somewhere to see more information about the topic, even if that reference is just something you pulled up on Google (or Bing). It takes you about as long as it takes the person who wrote the question, so why not be the bigger person and do the search?
  4. Mind your manners, etiquette, and general sarcasm. If you follow me on Google +, Twitter, or other social sites, you may know that I can be a tad sarcastic at times, especially when I see something willfully ignorant. That’s bad, I know it, and I try to avoid it. Remember when you are about to hit the enter key that the answer you give sticks around a lot longer than your frustration or annoyance, and can give the wrong impression of your temperament to future acquaintances.
  5. Brevity counts. You may be a true expert, able to expound on a subject for hours, and to branch into the various subtexts involved and even highlight the subtle nuances that may affect the answer in some instances. Restrain yourself! Long, detailed posts are for a blog, back and forth discussions are for forums, and for answer engines you need to be brief. Answer the question in full, but no more. If you have a post somewhere that gives more detail, add a link to it (see # 3 above).
  6. Bonus: Ask occasionally. I really think the answer engines (and maybe the Internet in general) is far too full of stupid questions. Please don’t contribute to that. But occasionally, you have an honest question, something you are curious about or something that came up in your day. Ask it! Give the other experts a chance to impress you! If you get a good answer back, make sure to thank the author and maybe even exchange contact information. The ice is broken, and you have a perfect opportunity to network.
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