the value of social Q&A

As someone who participates in many “social Q&A” sites and who runs one, I’m always interested in seeing people talking about them. I’m much more interested in this whole phenomenon than I am in Library 2.0 generally, even though I think they’re package and parcel of the same thing: computer-mediated and -assisted interaction between people who are geographically dispersed but share other common interests. As librarians we think about this a lot. Our patron base is becoming more dispersed even as our funding basis remains, in most cases, local.

First Monday has an article this month about these sites with some hard data, “Exploring characteristics and effects of user participation in online social Q&A sites” They use data from 55,000 Yahoo Answers questions (as an aside, Ask MetaFilter just reached its 100,000th question which was sort of exciting) and do a good survey of the existing literature. It’s an enjoyable read and really comes down to an elucidation of one of the first things I learned in library school: people ask their friends to help them with their information needs before they ask experts or professionals. Getting more granular about why this may be, and shifting the arena slightly to encompass the online world, this paper examines why.

Gazan (2006) divided questioners into Specialists and Synthesists. Specialists are more like knowledge experts who provide answers without referencing other sources, while Synthesists are the ones who do not claim any expertise and provide answers with references. Gazan (2007) identified two roles of answerers as Seekers and Sloths, depending on whether they have continuous conversation/interaction with other members after posting questions. Seekers demonstrate active engagement with the community and pursue communication regarding their questions. Sloths do not pursue further interaction with community members after receiving answers to their questions.

The article also looks into the Google Answers model for some insight into why it failed while Yahoo Answers succeeded.

Overall, it appears that Yahoo! Answers has developed a responsive community in which users voluntarily participate as both consumers and contributors. In comparison, Google Answers featured many one–time consumers and a small number of contributors who could only cover one–third of questions. Based on these observations, we suppose that Google’s approach of controlling the quality of answers, by not allowing users other than pre–approved ‘researchers’ to answer queries, led to a failure of the service. Yahoo! Answers’ open participatory model, on the other hand, appears to be successful, with a strong community in place.

Meanwhile, remember ChaCha? Apparently it’s not doing so well.

a librarian’s worst nightmare?

I don’t know about you, but my worst nightmare is more along the lines of someone vomiting (or worse!) in the overnight book drop, but Slate has an article about Yahoo Answers and how librarians hate it. Of course the writer doesn’t seem to have talked to any librarians, he just likes to rail against the wisdom of crowds — with some valid points, certainly — and make fun of stupid answers on YA which is of coruse the opposite of what any decent librarian would do. There is a lively back and forth in the disucssion section which is hard to follow and hard to find but if the topic is as near and dear to your heart as it is to mine, I suggest you dig it out. I commented. [thanks alexandra]

Flickr/Yahoo & Library collaboration

Coming on the heels of the recent news about Google’s foray into international government entanglement, here’s some encouraging news perhaps. Flickr is working with the National Library of Australia to “build a image bank with over a million images to be managed by the National Library of Australia.” This seems to not be an archival process but a way for the library to use what Flickr does best, upload, store and allow tagging and categorization of lots of digial images, combined with the mission and purpose of the library. I’m not sure how the library is managing these photos, but it will be fun to see contemporary photos in the PictureAustralia database. I saw a demo of this project when I was in Australia last year, it’s a pretty great resource. [thanks mom]