information is not directly disclosed to other users. However, these
solutions work by blocking unwanted exchanges, where unwanted is
usually defined by how costly the exchange is to the answerers. Even if
the models are 100 percent accurate, mediation may not be ideal.
Consider a social Q&A service designed to be used by askers and
answerers with some sort of higher-level shared goals, such as employees within a company. There may be scenarios where answerers
should be interrupted to incur an immediate cost in order to help
another who is working on more important and urgent tasks.
port help-seeking and help-giving. I found that allowing people to pay for
help can indeed increase overall welfare for parties involved, although there
may be overhead costs in deciding the value of getting help and the cost
of giving it [ 11]. If users are expected to make these types of decisions
many times a day, a complicated market may actually incur too much
overhead cost and reduce potential gains. Related studies on pay-for-answer Q&A services also show that paying can improve overall answer
quality [ 7, 8], and the length of the answers [ 9], but not necessarily the
quality of the single best or chosen answer [ 9].
One area of research that needs further exploration is how financial
rewards impact who uses these systems
and the social relationships between
users. Are these users more financially
motivated than users on free social
Q&A services? Related research in behavioral economics suggests that financial rewards can change the framing
of the interaction between people, from
social to transactional [ 11, 12]. Using financial incentives for Q&A
may reduce the amount of social interactions that are vital in sustaining an online community. Further research is needed to determine if this
also applies to social Q&A sites.
❝How can we better design
social Q&A sites so that they
are more sensitive to users’
needs and constraints?❞
Market pricing offers a third approach
to improve existing communication
technologies. The basic idea is that the
askers need to pay or commit to pay the
answerers for the answers. Frivolous
requests may be reduced because the
incremental cost of sending a question
forces initiators to be selective, sending requests only if they believe the
value of the answer is more than or equal to the price [ 6].
Also, the use of pricing can allow initiators to signal the value of
communication abstractly, without disclosing personal information.
Additionally, financial rewards may attract more answerers. This idea
has been explored by Google in Google Answers and is currently
incorporated into various pay-for-answer services, such as Mahalo
Answers, Just Answers, UClue, and AskBright.
I’ve also demonstrated a pay-for-answer service with a real-time
communication channel: mimir [ 7]. Question askers can broadcast
their questions to answerers directly, while offering mims, the virtual
currency. On the other side, answerers can filter incoming requests
based on the mims. When they do choose to answer, and if their
answers are chosen as the best answers, they are rewarded with mims.
Figure 1 shows the mimir interface.
Does paying help? In
general, research indicates
that financial rewards do
affect the quality of the answers [ 8, 9, 10]. In a laboratory setting, I explored
the use of markets to sup-
Applying the Solutions
Of the three types of solutions to improve social Q&A—
context-sharing, intelligent mediation and market pricing—context-sharing may be
most appropriate for Q&A services to be used with close family and
friends who would use the contextual information in a positive way.
Intelligent mediation can help Q&A between strangers as it reduces
unwanted communication requests.
However, users may prefer to handle certain requests themselves
when communicating with others with shared goals, as there may be
cases where partners’ gains outweighs one’s own costs. Finally, market
pricing ensures that both askers and answerers benefit from the
exchange. It’s important to note that the market pricing system does
not need to use real money. In a corporate setting, company store
credits can be as the currency of exchange, and tokens can be used
when interacting with family and friends.
While these three solutions are fairly distinct, they are not incompatible. In fact, perhaps the most optimal solution is to leverage a
hybrid system. For example, one
could utilize both intelligent mediation and market pricing for social
Q&A between strangers or other
weak social-ties. As the relationship
between users strengthens, the system could be gradually transitioned
to use context-sharing and simple
pricing rules with tokens.
This design will protect users
from spam when interacting with
strangers but offers flexibility when
interacting with closer and more
frequent communication partners.
While more research is needed to
explore hybrid strategies, it is cer-
Figure 1: Interface for mimir, a market-based real-time social Q&A service.