There’s plenty of information on the internet today, but it can still be difficult to find that one fact you need. Google can’t answer your questions directly, and if you do search for a question, chances are you’ll find some off-the-wall response on Yahoo! Answers. Not exactly what you were looking for.
Instead, today there are a number of niche question and answer sites that can make your search for an answer much more productive. These sites are designed to let users ask and answer questions, and usually let readers vote up answers that are the best. There’s several well known niche Q&A sites that you may already use, but keep reading to see the best places to get your questions answered that we’ve found.
Stack Exchange is one of the original niche Q&A sites, and its network continues to be one of the best places to find answers about an incredibly wide range of topics. It started out with Stack Overflow, a Q&A site for programers, and today has 57 sites with more added all the time. You can join with any OpenID, then ask questions and post answers to those that have already been answered. Users can vote up answers and questions, and can earn achievements and extra features as their reputation score increases. And unlike many other sites, the questions and answers here are usually extremely high quality. It’s a great network to visit just to learn from others’ wisdom!
What if there’s not a Stack Exchange site for the topic you want? Don’t worry. Area 51 is Stack Exchange’s site staging zone, where you can propose new Q&A sites, and start participating in budding communities around the topics that interest you. The original Stack Exchange sites tend to be about tech topics, but Area 51 includes a wide range of niche answer communities about arts, business, productivity, and more.
You know Q&A sites are popular when a whole new social network is built around asking questions. That’s exactly what Quora is. Interestingly, it’s attracted enough tech insiders and business leaders that there are some very interesting answers with detailed thoughts about a wide variety of topics. Instead of being designed around getting answers to help fix a problem, questions on Quora are usually broad, general questions about why a business did a certain thing or what is the best tech for a particular task. It’s a bit more broad than other niche Q&A sites, but questions are organized into topics, so you’re still more likely to find answers from people that know about your topic.
When you’re trying to tweak your site, and manage to entirely break your code, it’s easy to get desperate as you’re trying to find the answer you need. WP Questions is an interesting twist on the standard Q&A site. You can post your emergency questions about WordPress, include the code you’re having trouble with, then include a cash payment for the expert who answers your question. You can then vote up the answers that are most helpful, or browse answers that others received. It’s an interesting twist, and might be a great way to motivate the most experienced people to help others without wasting their time.
Healthysparx is a brand new site designed to help you find answers to your health questions. Its beautiful column design is reminiscent of Twitter for iPad, and is a refreshing twist on the standard Q&A site design. It’s easy to get started asking or answering questions since you can sign in with your Twitter or Facebook accounts. If you’ve got questions about your health, or want to share your expertise, this is a promising new site to try out.
Hipster might be one of the most hyped Q&A services of recent years, but it’s still not ready for public use. In fact, their homepage redirects to a Now Hiring page right now. When it launches, though, Hipster is designed to be local Q&A service that can help you learn more about stuff around you. Need to know the nearest place to get fish and chips? Hipster aims to be the service that will help you find out. It will have specialized question sites for various locations around the world, so you’ll only find stuff for your area. It sounds interesting, but for now, you’ll have to be content trying out their preview site for SXSW questions.
Most companies have support forums today that let you ask questions from employees and fellow customers. These forums are often very difficult to use, and look like they were designed a decade ago. GetSatisfaction is an increasingly popular alternative to these traditional forums. Here, getting support is more like asking a question in one of the newer question apps. Users can vote up answers and questions they like and find helpful, and customers can even create new forums for brands that aren’t using GetSatisfaction. It’s worth a check to see if the product you’re needing help with has its own topic page here.
O’Reilly is best know for their books on technology, and any developer is likely to have several of their volumes on their shelves or in their favorite eBook reader. When you hit a snag in coding, you could try to find the answer you need in their books. Or, you could check out their O’Reilly Answers site. This community brings together experts from a wide range of tech fields, and has an active group of people helping each other out with technology ranging from Android development to Facebook apps.
Can’t find a human to help you with what you need to know? Or are you too embarrassed to let the world know that you forgot how many inches are in a furlong? Don’t worry: WolframAlpha might be able to help. It can’t tell you why your ear is ringing or what you’re typing wrong in your code, but it can tell you how to integrate a tough equation or how much the moon weighs. It can even tell you how much caffeine you’ve consumed while trying to find your answer!
Your Favorite Social Network
Before the internet took over our lives, we used to ask our friends and family for advice when we needed help. Turns out, sometimes our own network of friends and colleagues is still the best source of information. You can post your question to your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or any other online profile you have, and you just might get the perfect answer. There’s no gurantee, but it’s a good option to keep in mind. Other discussion networks such as Hacker News and Reddit, or other forums you use, can be great sources of information from people you already communicate with.
Create Your Own Answers Site
Still haven’t found the perfect site for the subjects you’re interested in? Perhaps it’s time to start your own question and answer site. You could hand-code a site, but that could take quite a while. Instead, there are a number of ways you can make a fully customizable Q&A site quickly today.
For the adventerous, you could create a new question site using Shapado, a full Stack Exchange-type forum engine written in Ruby on Rails. If you’re looking for something simpler, there are a number of WordPress themes that can turn a simple WordPress site into a full-fledged question site. Envato’s own ThemeForest has two popular question themes, Instant Q&A and Sofa QandA, while Elegant Themes offers the stylish AskIt theme pictured above. Whichever you choose, you can then customize the site to your wishes and make a question and answer site about the topics you care about most. The only thing that’s not ready to install is an audience; you’ll have to build that yourself!
From health to WordPress to aliens, there are question and answer sites about dozens of topics today. And unlike Yahoo! Answers and other similar sites from the past, today it’s easier than ever to get authoritative answers from smart people that really know what they’re talking about. You’ll still come across some incorrect answers, but your chances of getting the answer you need are much better.
Do you use a Q&A site, or do you rely on any of these we’ve listed? We’d love to hear your thoughts on getting questions answered online!