Sunday, January 1, 2012

Crowdsourcing Answers to Questions (article from CDAA Career Momentum January February 2012)

This article appeared in the January/February 2012 Career Momentum. Career Momentum is only available to CDAA members, but I have reproduced my article.

Career development specialists don’t always know the answer to every question their client asks, mainly because the world of occupations and education options is diverse and global. Some of the career information we are asked for is either too new, such as what is the employment outlook for an apps developer in Lethbridge, or too arcane, such as what kind of brain teaser questions can I expect at my interview for Palantir? A decade ago, career professionals might have turned to a search engine to find the information, knowing that the information their clients wanted may not have any documents available or be enclosed as proprietary information. In the past few years, however, answers to some of these questions have become available through the “wisdom of the crowd” or through crowdsourcing.

Most people will recognize Wikipedia which is a crowdsourced encyclopedia, which relies on volunteer writers, editors, fact checkers, bibliographers and image providers. However, crowdsourcing encompasses a broad range of services, from answering questions to fundraising. This article will focus on getting answers to questions by relying on the crowd for answers. Most of these crowdsourced Q&A services originated with a search engine in South Korea called Naver. Because there was little content written in Korean on the Internet, Naver allowed people to ask and answer questions, which generated content that could be searched and indexed by the engine. Most of the services also use a point system, which also originated on Naver, which the questioner could use to vote on the quality and usefulness of the answers they received.

Based on the Naver model, Yahoo! started Yahoo! Answers, which is a viable source for English language questions—though some readers will recognize it as a resource their children use to cheat on their homework. Anyone can see the questions posted on Yahoo! Answers, but only registered Yahoo! users can post answers. When a user poses a question, the question is open for 3 days to gather answers, though this period can be extended, and users can post their responses. The person who posed the question can vote on the best answer, which gives the both the questioner and the answerer points, which could improve an answerer’s credibility on the system. Yahoo! Answers also has several multilingual and country specific search channels which would be of use for looking for international information or for clients who can search in languages other than English. Currently, the amount of career information is fairly slight, though it is possible that a general Google search may turn up Yahoo! Answers contributions in your search results.

Many CDAA members are also members of LinkedIn, which has its own Answers service. You can see the questions and answers on LinkedIn Answers without a LinkedIn user account, but to post questions and respond to questions, you need a LinkedIn account. When asking a question on LinkedIn, the service tries to get the user to curate the questions by assigning it a topic within the LinkedIn directory. Users can also delete questions that they don’t think are useful, such as when a spammer posts a link to a service within their question, and they can also vote on the best answers received for the question. For the person who answers the question, this best answer designation is attached to their LinkedIn profile, which should encourage people to answer questions well and courteously. Supposedly, LinkedIn Answers results are indexed by Google, which is very handy, since the LinkedIn search engine within Answers is not very sophisticated.

In our office, we have used LinkedIn to find out about new trends in interviewing, salary surveys of college students and what is the etiquette involved with posting a question to Answers that you intend to use in an article. Responses have usually been helpful; however, though people are still asking questions, the number of people who are bothering to answer appears to be on the wane. LinkedIn users may be asking their questions on the forum within closed or professional groups that can offer specific expertise, which isn’t found in the free-for-all Answers forum. LinkedIn is very appropriate to business and career advice. It is also possible to close and hide questions that you have asked on the service, so as to remove them from Google search results.

Since 2006, Amazon has offered Askville. Users will need to sign in with credentials to ask and answer questions on the site. The amount of career information is slight, and some of the answers have a hectoring or sarcastic tone (example, search for “what can I do with an associates [sic] degree in science?” to get an idea). The best answer scoring system is still in place in this service, so a user can select the best answer. This service is not recommended at this time for finding answers to career-related questions.

Established in 2009, Quora appears to be the baby of the bunch of crowdsourced Q&A services, but it is the easiest to use and seems to have the most active community, at least for technology and business questions. Users may only register for an account with their full name, though you can post and ask questions anonymously on Quora. You can also connect and follow people within the Quora community, or connect with your “friends” on Twitter and Facebook who also use Quora. People do ask for career advice on Quora, such as “What are good part time jobs for college students?” or to look for salary information, so it is a legitimate source for career information.

Google Answers and a service called Aardvark, which was acquired by Google, have been shut down at this time. It is possible that Google will try again with social search and Q&A services through its Google + network.

At this point, LinkedIn Answers and Quora are probably the best services to turn to when asking a career-related question that is relatively new to the industry or is a semi-secret practice at a company, such as their case or brain teaser interview questions, which is information that may not be available through any print resource.