INLS 501: Social Q&A

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Social Q&A is the term for sites that build a community around question-answering. Yahoo! Answers is the best-known of these, but there are many others: WikiAnswers, Ask MetaFilter, Wikipedia Reference Desk, to name only a few. While these sites all operate with different policies, as a rule the way these sites work is that a user can submit a question, and other users can submit answers, and often there is a system for rating the best answer. It is difficult to arrive at a precise count of the volume of use that these sites receive, but all estimates indicate that it's a far greater volume than reference services receive.

In 2007, a few librarians got the idea that librarians should make themselves more of a presence on social Q&A sites, and began an informal effort called Slam the Boards! This is an effort to get librarians to answer as many questions as they can on social Q&A sites on the 10th of every month. (See this interview for more background on the origin of StB.) Since StB began, however, it has diffused considerably: there is still a push on various listservs to drum up participation on the 10th of months, but as much or more librarian question-answering on social Q&A sites happens on other days.

Assignment description

For this assignment you will gain experience with answering questions on social Q&A sites. You will answer 3 questions on 3 different sites: select social Q&A sites from the Registry of Answer Boards or use one not listed (but if you do that, please add it to the Registry).

There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to compose an answer on social Q&A sites, though most sites articulate a set of guidelines and have some policies for policing behavior and resolving disputes (e.g., Yahoo! Answer's Community Guidelines, WikiAnswers' Help Center, etc.). Find and read the guidelines on the site you are answering on. Also, the StB-ers have developed a set of Tips and Tricks for answering questions on social Q&A sites.

Claim a question, compose an answer, & submit it. If your answer is the first for a question, great. If you want to answer a question that already has previous answers, fine, but make sure that your contribution adds new information to the answer and does not just repeat what other answerers have contributed. Monitor the question that you claimed for a day or so, to see if there is any discussion or disagreement among answerers, and if there is, contribute to that discussion as appropriate.

Create a post to the Sakai discussion forum that includes a link to the question that you answered, and the full text of the question and your answer (just copy & paste it). Trust me, copying the full text is not redundant -- it's happened several times that a question and all of its associated answers was deleted (for example, from Yahoo! Answers) or an answer was edited (for example, on WikiAnswers) between the time the student posted their answer and the time I viewed it.


5 points per question = 15 points total

Your answer to each question will be evaluated according to the following rubric. I will assign one point for each item, per question:

  1. You found the answer to the question.
  2. You found the answer in appropriate sources, and used more than one source.
  3. You discuss the details of the answer you found, including disambiguating any ambiguities in the question.
  4. You discuss the details of the sources you used: features, pros and cons, what the sources included and did not include, appropriate evaluation criteria, etc.
  5. You discuss the details of your searching process, for and within each source.

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