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Just Ask the Experts

December 2001/January 2002

I'm sorry, I have to do it. I have to assign you some homework. You give me no choice. Any number of times I've told you that getting web-based information is only half of what the Internet has to offer. The other half is having live experts answer your questions.

Some of you have been diligent and good students. But I'm guessing that over half of you have not yet asked a question on the Internet. So your assignment is to ask a question on AllExperts.com and then report back to me at jkarpen@lisco.com.

In the past we focused on the Usenet discussion groups, but AllExperts is an easier homework assignment because in some ways it's easier to use than a discussion group. You simply go to their web site, pick a category, pick an expert in that category, type your question into a form, and then wait for the expert's reply.

Typically within hours you'll get an e-mail message back that has a link. Clink on the link and there's the expert's answer to your question. It's free. And there are thousands of experts to choose from, including top lawyers, doctors, engineers, and scientists.

The categories of experts include arts/humanities, autos, computing technology, cities/towns, comedy, gadgets, games, health/fitness, home/garden, homework help, Internet/online, movies, news, pets, real estate, science, small business, travel, radio/TV, and more.

You can click on a link to find an expert, or simply do a search.

I had two questions the morning that I wrote this, both related to my Macintosh computer. I did a search on "Macintosh," and the site returned a list of Mac-related categories. I picked the "Macintosh OS" subcategory, and AllExperts returned a list of 30 experts, all waiting to answer my question.

Each expert is accompanied by that person's description of his or her expertise. In addition, every time an expert answers a question, you get to rate the usefulness of the answer. So you can survey the experts and choose the one with the highest rating. Experts are rated on knowledgeability, clarity of response, timeliness, and politeness.

When you're trying to pick an expert, you can choose to sort the list of experts on a particular topic so that the best experts are at the top, according to each of the above criteria. For example, you can see the list of Macintosh experts sorted according to those who are rated the most polite. You can also sort it in order of prestige and number of questions answered.

Once you choose an expert, you can get a more detailed look at his or her qualifications, such as the person's experience in the area, ratings by the other users of AllExperts and their comments, and total number of questions answered.

I thought Bob Wood, a certified Macintosh technician, looked like a good expert to ask. He had answered some 2,257 questions and was rated very highly. Within hours I had received a very helpful reply.

Experts specify the maximum number of questions they'll answer per day, so if you see a notation that says "Maxed Out" by the person's name, that means that he or she has answered the daily quota and won't be available again until the next day. Bob is willing to answer 10 questions a day.

An advantage of AllExperts is that you know a bit about the person and his or her reputation. Asking a question in a general discussion group that you're not familiar with can possibly elicit answers from any Joe or Joanne who may not know what he or she is talking about.

On the other hand, there are occasions when a discussion group would be better. For example, if you have a general question and would like a variety of opinions, then of course you need a discussion group. Also, if you have a very difficult question, the AllExperts expert you choose might not know the answer, so then you're faced with having to ask it again using another expert. But in a discussion group, you can ask many people at one time.

Of course, you can always try both to see what you get.

I'm serious about the homework. Try this and then e-mail me at jkarpen@lisco.com to tell me what question you asked and whether you got a helpful answer. Then if indeed I get a response from my readers, in my next column I'll give some examples of the range of questions that were answered so that you can see how useful this is.

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen