Learning Search

An Experiment In Asking Questions That Mostly Failed. Twice.

I thought I was soooooo clever.

I was going to go to all the question-asking sites, and ask a question, then do an article about how the different sites answered the different questions, and what I learned, and where I recommended going to ask questions. So I asked my question and I waited.  And guess what? I only got one answer to the question and it was spam.

So I thought I needed to come up with a better question, and I really did think it was a better question, and I asked it, and… well… I had better luck, but not great luck. I did learn enough that I feel it’s worth sharing with you.

In this article I’m going to tell you about five places to ask questions on the Internet. And hopefully you’ll get better answers than I did! I do think these are great places to ask questions, but I don’t know if I ask terrible questions, or since I’m asking at the beginning of the summer my timing is bad, or something else.

But now, a word about rules.

Please Mind the Signs

I’m sure all of you who are regular readers of ResearchBuzz know this part. Just in case you share this with someone who doesn’t know: your best outcome will happen when you follow the site rules and ask the questions according to guidelines. I messed up with this on Reddit (more about that later.) Don’t be like me.

Quora — https://www.quora.com/

Quora amazes me, both for the questions that get asked and the people who answer. It’s the only digest email I look forward to and read on a regular basis. Even if you’re not interested in asking questions I encourage you to visit Quora if you haven’t already.

What I Asked

Asking questions on Quora is easy. You just have to have an account, and fill out a question box. You don’t have a lot of room to expound, so make it count. I was asking about favorite podcasts for learning about new music. (And just for the record, I really do want to learn about new music. I still have nightmares about the side-eye I got from a co-worker when I remarked, “Wow! This is a great song! Is it new?” when Happy by Pharrell came on the radio. This was in 2016.)

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The Responses I Got

I got one. It was a very thorough response from John Simpson, and it was much appreciated. But it wasn’t the big list of recommendations I was hoping for. Thanks John!

screenshot from 2018 06 18 17 17 52

What I Did Wrong (I Think)

I think there were a couple of ways I blew it here. The first one was that I didn’t use the many ways Quora has to “boost” a post. You can ask experts to answer your question (I did that, but perhaps I could have done more), but you can also share the question on other social networks, edit the question or its topics/tags, etc. Maybe I should have been more aggressive and more on it.

The other way I think I blew it was the tone of this question. Quora is more philosophical and experiential, asking people what was the most x of their life or when did they feel the most y. I’ve answered questions like that myself. I think asking a question that didn’t leave a lot of room for story or reflection doesn’t fit with Quora.

I will still keep devouring the daily digests, though.

Yahoo Answers — http://answers.yahoo.com

Yahoo Answers has been a longtime question-answering site. I have not spent a lot of time on it recently, but like other parts of Yahoo it has the feeling that it’s not being managed well. I’m not sure if my question even got asked; I’m pretty sure I submitted it but I can’t find it.

What I Asked

I asked about favorite podcasts for discovering new music. (I’m at that age when I have to go hunting new music.) Yahoo Answers has a little question box you fill out once you’re logged in and it submits your question. You can add more details or an image but in the case of my question it didn’t seem necessary.

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The Responses I Got

As far as I can tell I didn’t get any. My notifications are empty. Yahoo Answers has a way to search for previous answers, and when I searched for “What Are Your Favorite Podcasts” and sorted the results by date, the most recent answers were from 2012. I tried to use the preference for viewing more recent results, but Yahoo kept defaulting to all dates.

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When I tried to search for “What are your favorite podcasts for”, I got no results at all.

What I Did Wrong (I Think)

In fairness to Yahoo Answers, maybe I didn’t do the posting right. Maybe I messed up somehow when I used the submission box. Maybe the question didn’t appear at all.

But I’m not going to try again because Yahoo Answers is, to me, a little bit of a tire fire. Here’s a selection of the questions that are presented on the front page. I did not search for these or filter them in any way.

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Now I’m all for political conversation if you can have it in a civil manner. But with the state of the Internet and social media being what it is, I would not sling these questions out at everybody and invite them into the conversation, because you’re just asking for a flame war. I looked at a couple of these conversations and they were so bad I did not want to screenshot them.

Asking what podcasts have new music doesn’t strike me as a particularly political question, but if the questions showing up on the front page are so divisive and volatile (from both the right and left) I’m a little worried about trying to interact with this community.

MetaFilter — https://www.metafilter.com/

When I was outlining this article I did not put the question-and-answer in any particular order, so it’s not intentional that MetaFilter comes right after Yahoo Answers. No, it’s a mere coincidence that I put two sites that are almost complete opposites together. Yahoo Answers struck me as somewhat neglected and unmoderated. MetaFilter is very moderated and much more welcoming. I had the best results from MetaFilter. MetaFilter’s also in financial trouble.

What I Asked

MetaFilter lets you ask questions and then tag them by topic. It has a specific area — AskMeFi — for submitting questions. I thought I had a MetaFilter account from ages ago, but apparently I didn’t, so I had to pony up $5 to join the site and ask a question. (the $5 is not an ongoing fee. It’s a signup fee. I get the impression it’s an easy barrier to entry designed to keep out trolls, scammers, etc.)

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The Responses I Got

If you’ve got eagle eyes you probably noticed from the screenshot that I got responses to this question. SIXTEEN. This is far, far more than I got from any other platform. Heck, this is a magnitude more than I got from the other platforms put together.

And they were good, too! I got all kinds of suggestions, from Bandcamp to specific podcasts to an offering from a record store in my home state! Though asking questions on the site does require membership, you can apparently review the answers without being an advertiser or even signing in (though you will see ads.) Check out the answers to my question at https://ask.metafilter.com/322983/What-are-your-favorite-podcasts-for-learning-about-new-music#4664503 .

What I Did Wrong (I Think)

MetaFilter is old school, and by that I mean it’s not into the notification model of “We will send you notifications for everything even when things aren’t really happening,” ala Facebook, and I didn’t pick up on that. Instead it offers RSS feeds to follow questions. If I had noticed that and gotten the feed for my question, I would have gotten notifications a lot sooner.

The other thing I did wrong was more general. I should have gone out of my way to support MetaFilter a long time ago and I didn’t. If I want to be a good Internet citizen, I feel part of my obligation is supporting what I want to see on the Internet. What I want to see is well-structured, well-maintained communities with useful, supportive, meaningful discussions.  If I don’t do that — if we don’t all do that — the small and independent sites are going to die.

I’m sorry, MetaFilter. I have corrected my error.

Ask Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/r/ask/

Reddit gets a bum rap for being 100% awful, but that’s not been my experience. In fact in the case of Reddit I definitely made an error, but the moderator was incredibly nice about it.

What I Asked

Once again, asking about the best podcasts for music.

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And I immediately messed up. I added an additional sentence that was not a question for clarity. Apparently that was wrong. I was supposed to do just the question. I was informed that by an auto-monitor, with a human moderator later politely clarifying (I wanted to double-check I understood the rules before reposting my question.)

The Responses I Got

I got one response for a radio program in Canada featuring Canadian music. I thought it was interesting that I got one response both from Ask Reddit and Quora. Not quite expected, but certainly welcome.

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What I Did Wrong (I Think)

I know I did wrong with not formatting the question properly. And I think that, like Quora, AskReddit is more for philosophical and experience-based questions instead of opinion-type questions.

I think also in this case that it may be me. I have never really felt that I “fit in” with Reddit. I have never experienced more than mild negativity there, so it’s not like I had a bad experience, just … some things don’t fit. I don’t think I fit with Reddit.

Disqus — https://disqus.com

You might not know Disqus, and if you do it might be only as a comments tool that a number of Web sites use. But it’s more than that — it also has its own forums at https://disqus.com/home/explore/ . It’s kind of like Reddit. Kind of.

What I Asked

Podcasts again! Disqus does have a little more room to provide information and a background. Bear in mind that you have to find an appropriate group to ask your question. I chose a general music discussion group.

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The Responses I Got

Just one, as you can see in the screenshot above. Not a podcast recommendation but a music recommendation. Which is fine, I like to listen to almost anything.

What I Did Wrong (I Think)

I’m not deeply familiar with Disqus, and I might not have searched enough for a good discussion group. Maybe I should have looked for a podcasting group, or another music group. I don’t think it’s an accident that the one result I got was about music and not podcasts. I might have just asked this question in the wrong place.


On the one hand, I’m happy that I was able to find one resource of all these that gave me useful answers to my question of music exploration. On the other hand, I’m appalled that the one that responded best is the one that’s in the most financial trouble (as far as I can determine.)

Still, I think any of these sites are worth trying if you’ve got a question (except maybe Yahoo Answers.)

Categories: Learning Search, News

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3 replies »

  1. Your fail was probably that you didn’t even think about calling your local library. I don’t know if you would have gotten better answers than you got, but I know that you would have gotten an answer. Next time try it.

  2. What an interesting survey of options… In my case, I don’t know if I “follow” you on Quora, officially, but it’s the only one of the places you tried out which I monitor pretty regularly. So maybe it was just luck of the draw that I saw your question posted — and, like you, I was surprised that no one else answered.

    Again, I don’t spend much time at the other sites you looked into. (I did find Reddit spectacularly engaging for ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’-related conversation last year — sufficiently so that I installed a separate Reddit-reading-and-responding app.) But one thing about Quora that I’ve found: the questions seem to hang around for years. Don’t be surprised if your question eventually pulls in a half-dozen or more answers.

    It can also be a bit persnickety in its insistence on “good” tags/topics. (“Good” is a hard word to define in this context.) Yours, I see, has been assigned these topics (by you or by someone else): Music Genres; Classical Music; Music; and Survey Question. If you’d selected Podcasts as a topic, you might’ve pulled in more answers; deselecting Classical Music might or might not have improved your results.

    Anyhow, I’ve like Quora from the get-go. I recently signed on to their “Partners” program — not endorsing it either way, I’m too new at it to know if it’s worth doing. But the deal is that you ask “good” (…) questions, of “good” specific answerers, and as you questions (theoretically) draw eyes, Quora reimburses you some nominal amount. They also promote eye-catching questions more, in email and at the site, which creates a natural feedback loop — although it hasn’t helped me much: I have so far earned 4 cents, lol, after a couple months’ participation. Here are the weekly top questions and how much they’ve earned their “partner” askers:


    What are some of the most demoralizing weapons in military history? Why?
    $507.38 · 1,005,156 Views

    What’s the youngest anyone’s ever had a kid?
    $424.37 · 1,215,476 Views

    Have you ever been horrified when a prospective romantic partner removed their clothing?
    $339.70 · 740,970 Views

    While repairing a computer, have you ever found something illegal on it?
    $280.85 · 516,534 Views

    What are some risky marketing campaigns that paid off?
    $258.23 · 247,788 Views


    Interestingly, notice that there’s no 100% obvious linear relationship between # of views and amount earned: the top earner has pulled in more than the second-highest, of course… but with fewer views.

    Anyhow, thanks so much for devoting so much time and attention to this!

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