The new Yahoo Answers joins a long list of other answer-providing services. Here’s a recap of some prominent services that offer online Q&A. Like all answers found on the web or really anywhere, it’s important to use your critical info skills and take a step back and look at where the answer is coming from, it’s scope, currency, the authortity of the source, etc.
Yahoo Answers reminds me IN MANY WAYS of a web based Q&A community that has been online and growing for several years called Wondir.com (Note: I am listed as a member of the Wondir Board of Advisors) but have had little involvement for a few years.
Like at Yahoo Answers, questions come from users all over the web and are organized into categories and searchable. RSS feeds are available and a scrolling ticker relays the latest asked questions, and personalization is available from MyWondir. The service officially launched in April and recently was acquired by the Revolution Health Group. More about What’s New at Wondir, here. SearchDay also had a story about Wondir in 2002. This blog post has more about Wondir news along with a link to an interview I did with Wondir co-founder, Dr. Matt Koll. When the service officially launched this year it received coverage in several publications including The Washington Post, The Daily Record, Serchblog.
Your Local, University, or Company Library
A large movement in the library world in the past few years is know as “virtual reference.” Yes, the world of the library and the professional librarian extend beyond the four walls of the library building. In many cases these services are available from libraries large and small and allow you to chat live with a librarian in many cases 24×7 (trained in research) who also have access to many more tools (books and databases that can found on the web). I’ve blogged about virtual reference before and even pointed out that in some areas like the State of Colorado and the entire country of Australia, these services are available. Here’s just one a quick example. A resident of San Francisco or better said, someone with access to a San Francisco library card, can go online and chat in by phone, email and/or IM. You can learn more about virtual reference here. Now, these pros can help you come up with a better search or suggest you use a database specifically designed for the info need you have. In addition to books, SF PL librarians can clue you into this massive collection of remotely accessible set of databases that contain the full text of articles, books, and much more. It’s all free.
Update: A nationwide virtual reference service just launched in the UK called Enquire. More about it here. Click the Enquire button. It’s part of The People’s Network.
Btw, none of these virtual reference have nothing to do with the full text databases available from home or office FOR PERSONAL USE with just a library card for many libraries. For more on this, check this guest column I wrote for BetaNews.
These are databases or other types of service where subject experts will answer your questions on a variety of topics. I think you’ll be amazed at what’s available.
Google Answers is a bit different than Yahoo Answers in two main ways. First, it’s fee-based where you tell a “qualified” Google researcher how much you’re willing to pay for an answer.
Additionally, once your query is posted, “Your question will also be publicly viewable on the Google Answers website so other registered users can add their insights and share the benefit of the research.”
Postscript: As I noted yesterday, Answers.com and The New York Public Library have just announced a new service that will include a virtual reference/question answering element to help students with homework.