User generated content, in the form of question and answer websites in this case, is only as good as the content being provided. Obvious perhaps, except when one considers how difficult it can be sometimes to tell the difference between good information and bad information.
A quick look at the main page of two big question and answer websites Answers/WikiAnswers and Yahoo!Answers actually made me question the seriousness of either website; at least from a scholarly standpoint. Yahoo!Answers had recent questions that ranged from wanting to know how to cite something in MLA style to wanting to know if a particular movie was available in Blue Ray format. WikiAnswers was similar with questions ranging from who Jennifer Lopez’s parents are to the conversion of temperature scales.
Many of the questions I saw on either website seemed silly, and the answers in many cases appeared to be more opinion than fact.
Looking a bit further into news on question and answer websites found a February 2011 article on the technology page on the New York Times website. The top websites were reported as being WikiAnswers and Yahoo!Answers. The article went on to discuss a series of other new websites which include: Hipster, Quora, Stack Exchange, Twitter, and VYou.
Curious about Quora as there were a few articles about it I tried to take a look at it but was unable to view it as viewing required an account. An article on Mashable about Quora linked to a video that explains and demonstrates the features of the question and answer website. From this distant view Quora had an interesting format which enables you to ask experts a question, although it seems like there are quite a few steps that you must go through to post a question.
Another article on Mashable talked about a website called Formspring which allows you to subscribe to particular people whose questions appear in your inbox, and their conversations will show up in your feed. You can in turn send out questions for your friends to answer. Formspring has various celebrities you can subscribe to on the website who have been verified to be celebrities. Like Quora this website was also unable to be viewed unless subscribed to and this time I decided to take a look. This look required me to sign in either via Facebook or Twitter and to create a screen name.
(One a side note I find it interesting and a little disturbing how both Facebook and Twitter seem to be tying a lot of different websites together. I wonder if this is a trend that will continue and flourish. I am not sure I want Facebook to track my movements on websites other than Facebook.)
At this time the only friend I have on the website is Formspring itself because I cannot figure out how to search the community.
Looking beyond the easily found websites, an advanced Google search found that some universities offer question and answer resources as well.
Go Ask Alice! is Columbia University’s Health Q&A Internet Service. A similar sounding website is Just Ask Antoine! with questions and answers relating to chemistry. If you are curious about astronomy then Ask An Astronomer at Cornell University’s website. Sex, Etc. is a development of Answer, a website by Rutgers University.
Whether you hate them or like them, given the proliferation of websites that are available, it would appear that the question and answer format websites are here to stay.