Know it all

If you need specific information and your own web searches aren’t helping you find it, why not try one of the several websites devoted to helping you find exactly the details you need? The Windows Middle East team has been busy rating these on your behalf…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  September 3, 2006

|~||~||~|For this test we first pooled our team’s thoughts to identify what we consider to be the four main Q&A sites out there. The four we chose are: Yahoo! Answers, Google Answers, AllExperts and Wondir. We then devised a set of three questions to ask the experts at each site. One was computer-related, one a technological definition query and one a very specific sports-related question (all of which we felt we already knew the answers to, so making the task of assessing the answers we received a simple one). Our questions were: Q1: My computer has been getting slower each day this week. Why is this, and what can I do to stop the ‘crawl’? Q2: What is the difference between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray technology? Q3: A friend recently told me that a crazy kid attempted to snowboard down Mount Everest? Who was he and did he actually survive? Here then, is how the sites compared:||**||Yahoo! Answers|~|Yahoo-Q&A---m.jpg|~||~|http://answers.yahoo.com/ How it works You need a Yahoo! user ID, so Yahoo! Mail users are already one step ahead. If not, the sign-up procedure is very quick. Once you’ve logged in, you must fill out the question form (submitting your query, more details if required and then choosing a question category). When filling out this form, Yahoo displays links to similar questions asked in the past. You can then choose whether to be notified of answers by e-mail or Yahoo! Messenger. Features Paid-for or free service: Free E-mail answer alerts: Y (showing first line of answer and link to rest) Questions ‘open’ for: Four days (this can be extended) E-mail communications with other users: Y (via website) Messenger communications with other users: Y Other: ‘My Account’ page on website shows the questions you’ve asked and the responses to these. Answer performance First answer received: Six minutes (Q1) Maximum no. of answers to one question (within 48 hours): 8 (Q1) Quality of answers: 3/5 The 15 Yahoo! answers we received within our 48-hour test period were of mixed quality. Some featured accurate and helpful information, but around 50% just commented on our questions (“Snowboarding down Everest? Cool!” etc.). If you don't want the ‘help’ of bored, predominantly American kids, or don’t have time to trawl answers for valuable advice, this is the site to avoid. ||**||Wondir|~|Wondir-Q&A---m.jpg|~||~|www.wondir.com How it works First you must sign-up for an account, then you can input your question and hit submit. The next screen presents related enquiries from other users, along with links to their answers, plus at the top of the page you can choose the exact category in which to slot your question. Features Paid-for or free service: Free E-mail answer alerts: Y (display the first two or three lines of each answer, plus you can ‘stop receiving answers’ to your question by clicking the URL at the bottom of the e-mail). Questions 'open' for: Unlimited duration E-mail communications with other users: N Messenger communications with other users: N Other: ‘My Account’ page on website shows questions asked etc. You can also choose the ‘Best Answer’ received. Answer performance First answer received: 19 minutes (Q1) Maximum no. of answers to one question (within 48 hours): 2 (Q1) Quality of answers: 4/5 The three answers we received within our 48-hour test period (two for question 1 and one response to our second question), were well considered. Despite being a public site at which anyone can post answers, Wondir’s visitors appear more knowledgeable and helpful than Yahoo’s. For instance, both responses to our PC slowdown question were received within half an hour and included many useful tips, from running Ad-aware to deleting cookies and updating virus definitions. Not only that, but when uploading our second question a perfectly suited article link was displayed on the site, effectively rendering our question superfluous. ||**||Google Answers|~|Google-Q&A-ed-choice---m.jpg|~||~|http://answers.google.com/answers How it works You sign up, either as a new user or using your Googlemail ID, and input your question into the text box on the Answers homepage. This page includes a link to advice on wording questions to help you get the answers you need. On the next page you then choose a question ‘subject’ (such as ‘Computer slowdown’), the price you’re willing to pay for an answer (between US $2 and $200, depending on how urgently an answer is required; we offered $2), and your question’s category. On the next page you enter your credit card details. Costs run to $.50 per question listing, plus your agreed answer fee (you are charged only for one answer, as provided by an official Google Researcher). You can also tip researchers that provide excellent answers, and visitors are also free to help, at no charge to you, by adding ‘comments’ to your answers. Features Paid-for or free service: Paid-for (visitor comments free) E-mail answer alerts: Y (e-mail says ‘answer ready’ and directs you to the site) Questions ‘open’ for: One month E-mail communications with other users: N Messenger communications with other users: N Other: Site includes categories of previous Q&As and huge FAQ section. Answer performance First answer time: 23 minutes (Q1) Maximum no. of answers to one question (within 48 hours): 1 (as allowed) Maximum no. of user comments on one question (within 48 hours): 1 (Q2) Quality of answers: 5/5 (Editor's Choice) We received two Google Researcher responses (to questions 1 and 3) within our 48-hour trial period, plus two user comments (to Qs 1 and 2), all of which were wholly accurate. These answers even, in some cases, included links to related online news stories and explanatory articles. ||**||All Experts|~|ALl-Q&A---m.jpg|~||~|www.allexperts.com How it works All Experts claims to be the oldest and largest free Q&A service on the internet. It is slightly different to the others here in that you must choose an expert to ask before submitting your question (the site and its myriad of experts are tied to the About.com network of specialist information sites). Features Paid-for or free service: Free E-mail answer alerts: Y (e-mail says ‘answer ready’ and directs you to the site) Questions ‘open’ for: Not specified E-mail communications with other users: N Messenger communications with other users: N Other: The site’s volunteer experts aim to answer you the same day, unless they have ‘maxed out’ their replies, in other words completed their daily quota of answers and logged off. When you have been sent an answer however, this will only be available for a period of three days. Answer performance First answer time: 60 minutes (Q1) Maximum no. of answers to one question (within 48 hours): 1 (as allowed) Quality of answers: 4/5 We received responses to two of our questions (Qs 1 and 3) within 48 hours. The information received was accurate but although we received some interesting extra info in the case of our snowboarding question (about the first helicopter ever to have landed on the summit), the response to our PC slowdown question was less detailed than the Google and Wondir responses.||**||

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