Ask the Experts
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
I'm serious about the homework. Try this and
then e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.