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. (There are also a few notable examples that have been discontinued, including Google Answers and Aardvark.) 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 library-based 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).

The IPL has very detailed guidelines for the content and format of answers. Social Q&A sites, on the other hand, have no hard-and-fast rules for how to compose an answer -- 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.

Reflection on Question-Answering

Write a post that includes the following:

  1. A link to the question that you answered
  2. 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.
  3. A brief discussion of the content and format of your answer. Why did you include the information that you did, or if you excluded information from your answer, why? Why did you structure your answer as you did? In other words, make a rough attempt to formulate IPL-like content and format guidelines for your social Q&A site, or some subsection thereof.

For each question you answer, you must write a post in which you evaluate the sources that you selected to include in your response. In this post, briefly review each source that you selected. These reviews must contain the following:

  1. Evaluation: A brief explanation of why the source is useful for answering the given question. What relevant information does it contain? Why is it appropriate for the questioner, given his/her level of knowledge / grade / etc.? Who or what is the authority behind the source / how trustworthy is the source? This is especially interesting if the information provided by different sources does not agree.
  2. The reference interview: At least two questions that you would ask the patron if you were able to engage in question negotiation with him/her.

If you select a source that exists in two (or more) different media (e.g., the OED, the Encyclopædia Britannica), your review should compare and contrast the source in the different media: differences and similarities in organization, structure, functionality, usefulness, etc.

Give your post the category Social Q&A.


5 points per question = 15 points total

Since there are no hard-and-fast rules for how to compose an answer on social Q&A sites, you have to explain to me why your answer is appropriately formatted, detailed, age-appropriate, etc. In the brief discussion in your Sakai post, you must articulate the criteria according to which I should evaluate your answer.

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