Where to find answers from experts

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Tips for putting the finishing touches on a business proposal. Advice for dealing with a perilous relationship. Walkthroughs on how to build a fence on your particularly sloped backyard. Questions like this can sometimes be solved with a quick Google, by asking your friends, or by taking an old-fashioned trip to the library. Sometimes, though, your question is a little too precise, a little too obscure, or a little too convoluted for those sources to solve.

Thanks to the web, there are now countless services that let you put willing experts and helpful strangers to work answering your unsolved riddles. Below is a brief tour of some of 2009′s best sources for crowdsourced answers.

For non-profits: try Urbantastic

Founded by Vancouverites Heath Johns and Ben Johnson, Urbantastic is breaking new ground for micro-volunteering. If you want to help your city become “a more friendly, more lively, more benevolent place,” you can volunteer from home by completing tasks posted by local charities. As of mid-April 2009, there is now an “Ask a Question” feature, where you can help non-profits find answers to questions ranging from marketing advice to event planning.

Sample question: Where should we get our 2009 t-shirts printed?

On the go, from your phone: try Cha Cha

ChaCha describes itself as “mobile answers.” Call 1-800-2ChaCha from your mobile phone, tweet to @chacha, or text your question to 242242, and “you’ll receive the answer as a text message in a few minutes.” It’s not as new or crazy as you think: just last week, ChaCha officially answered their 100,000,000th question (that’s one hundred million). Questions submitted by you are routed to a subject-matter-expert (a “guide”), and within minutes, you’ll have your answer.

Sample question: Who is responsible for preparation of the president’s budget?

For a business angle: try LinkedIn Answers

Since LinkedIn is the go-to social networking site for business professionals, it means you’ve got thousands of pros gathered in one place eager to establish reputations for themselves. It also means you’ve got a ripe crop of potential question-answerers ready to help you out. LinkedIn’s Answers section lets you tap into the crowd to ask any question you like, receiving multiple answers from multiple perspectives.

Sample question: Which personal finance / budgeting / money tracking / money management software do you prefer and why?

For everything from relationship advice to technology tips: try AskMetafilter

AskMetafilter is one of the web’s mainstays for crowdsourced queries. Since 2003, AskMetafilter has been providing the “hive mind” perspective on countless issues, from personal dilemmas to business propositions. You can post anonymously or with your own username, and the result is a selection of opinions, ideas and opinions that will help you make a well-informed decision. Or, just find some really, really obscure info.

Sample question
: I need advice or a good book to read on how to (i)not let my career and continuing education take over my life and (ii) keep myself from being negatively transformed through stressful experiences.

For live help from a real person: try Skype Prime

Receiving advice from somebody on the phone can be a much more reassuring experience than just blasting a question out into cyberspace and twiddling your thumbs while you wait. Skype Prime connects you in real-time to somebody whose background relates to the help you need, and lets you talk via Skype to walk through your issue. It is a paid service, though, which might be a deal-breaker for people looking for easy online answers.

Sample question: Can somebody show me how to use the clone stamp tool in Photoshop?

For in-depth research and oddball inquiries: try Wikipedia’s Reference Desk

If you can’t make it to your local library, the next best option is Wikipedia’s Reference Desk. Think of it as your opportunity to ask a helpful, diligent expert the weirdest questions you can think of. Although Wikipedia often gets a bad rap in academic circles for being a little too lax on its fact-checking, the fact is that anybody who is dedicated enough to pour hours of effort into editing a public encyclopedia is likely a smart, diligent person.

Sample question: What’s a word meaning misplaced nationalism?

For well-researched answers you have to pay for: try Uclue

Uclue calls itself “a professional, fast, and inexpensive research service.” Name your price (how much you’re willing to pay for an answer), and you’ll have yourself a crew of researchers out looking to earn that bounty. Staffed by former Google Answers Researchers, Uclue specializes in digging up the details on any topic imaginable.

Sample question: How to change your identity (UK)?


Of course, your first go-to source for any questions you may have relating to creative strategy, graphic design, communication arts, branding & identity, web development, marketing & advertising and anything else that needs the creative touch, is us, your friends at Elbowruminations. Send us a note anytime and we’ll be happy to help you out.

  • http://www.answerly.com Answerly

    Great wrap up of expert q&a services, Kevan. Its a topic I’m keenly interested in as I run a service called Answerly.com that offers free answers to questions on the web. User questions are researched by real people and answers are typically answered in a few minutes (although some questions may take longer). Our answerers (we call them operators) aren’t subject matter experts per se, but they are very good web researchers who can point you to expert resources online. You can check it out for yourself at http://www.answerly.com.

  • http://www.elbowroomdesign.com/musings Kevan

    Thanks for the tip! Answerly looks like a really helpful service.

    Y’know, I didn’t mention this in the article, but Twitter is also a solid source to turn to for answers. A great article was actually just published by Mashable (just after this one came out) that covers how to use Twitter for this exact purpose: http://mashable.com/2009/04/21/twitter-questions-answers/

  • http://uclue.com/ Roger Browne

    Thanks for the kind words about Uclue (I’m one of the researchers there).

  • http://www.questioon.com Tony Buck

    Questioon is an advanced QA website which enables you to find answers to any question, and either get a response from the general web or from a real person.
    Questioon also integrates with Facebook and Twitter where you can login with your facebook credentials and communicate and broaden your knowledge in a social capacity.

    Questioon has the simple offering to provide answers to your questions in a more qualitative way.
    By drawing on results from its own database, as well as Yahoo, Twitter and Google, the results are amazing delivered both real-time, and in the generate search engine form.