Experts Exchange

By Deane Barker on September 23, 2004

How many of you use Experts Exchange (EE) for tech questions? It’s like a big IT discussion board, with the important addition of a points system.

When you create a free user account on EE, you get, like, 500 points. You have to “spend” these points to ask questions (they just recently fielded their millionth question, in fact).

Other geeks compete for the points by trying to answer your question. If you select their answer as the “correct” answer, they get the points you offered, which they can then use to ask more questions. (At least it used to be this way — they’ve done some funky things with the point system lately. You apparently get five points a day now for just…existing.) If you’re short on points, you can buy 1,000 for $12.95.

What this means is that you don’t get many freeloaders — those who ask but never answer. If they try, they’ll run out of points pretty quickly (an average question goes for 150 points or so).

This has resulted in a pretty effective system which I’ve used a couple of dozen times to get some answers on some sticky questions. A few have gone unanswered, but EE has solved a lot of them when all other resources failed.

I’m a casual user, and I have about 5,000 points. However, one guy has almost 4 million points (but no job, apparently — check the bottom of his profile). As of this writing, he’s posted comments to 7,764 questions, his comment was selected as the correct answer in 6,396 cases. That’s a track record of 82%. This is a guy you want at your Help Desk.

I always wondered how guys like this found that many questions to answer. EE is a good resource, but the usability is a mess, and it’s all I can do to ask a question, never mind answer 4 million points worth of them.

Then, the other day, I found QuickPost which is a client app for EE. I don’t know if they opened an XML API, or if it’s just doing some serious screen-scraping, but if you open it up and let it run, you will get beaten about the head with questions.

In the five minutes I had it open, a new question came through about once every five seconds while I was monitoring all categories. I finally limited it to PHP, Exchange, and Outlook, but I still got hit a couple of times a minute.

And here’s what I didn’t expect: answering questions is so addictive. With QuickPost, I could fire off a quick comment within 15 seconds of a question being posted. In the course of about five minutes, I posted a half-dozen comments and correctly answered four questions. I finally had to shut it off because I had to get some work done.

QuickPost is handy if you’re really interested in one particular topic. You can run it in the background and you get a little sound effect when a question comes in on your subject. Reviewing the accepted answers to questions is pretty educational if you limit it to a specific topic. Most of the answers are quite good.

If you’re interested in EE, they have a very good FAQ that’s worth reading. It’s a pretty tight community, so a lot of “social” rules are covered.

Sometimes, you’ll get an answer that isn’t what you want to hear; that doesn’t make it a bad answer. […] If you ask “how do I keep my HTML code hidden”, the only answer that is legitmate is “don’t post in on the Internet” — and the fact that you don’t like it carries no weight. Further, the fact that you offered points means that the person who first tells you “you can’t do that” is correct, and deserves the points.

There are controveries as well, like points passing. You’re not allowed to “share” points, so some intrepid souls just started asking really simple questions, and had their buddies answer them right away so they could “award” them the points. Sneaky.

It is expected that members will recognize that the ability to do something is not an invitation to do something.

Shortcomings aside, EE is a great system. It’s rescued me more than a few times. If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth a look. If you know of another good points-based system like this, drop a comment.

(One last note: EE’s domain name didn’t used to have a hyphen. Can you guess why they added it?)

Gadgetopia

Comments

  1. I use it and pay the $9.95 a month for unlimited points. You would be amazed at hour quickly you get even a hard question answered for the max of 500 points. It has saved me countless hours of googling or other searching for an answer. For a single developer like me its like being in my previous atmosphere with about 20 talented programmers who can answer almost any question or help you get out of a jam.

  2. Disclaimer: I’ve been a member of EE for about five years, and if anyone who reads this has been an EE member for any significant length of time, they’ll know exactly who is the author of this post. That notwithstanding, I wouldn’t be posting here if I didn’t appreciate the original post.

    At one point, fairly early in my tenure there, EE’s volunteer Experts answered a question for me — in all of about 45 minutes — that stopped the company I worked for from throwing away a CRM app that cost it $120,000. To say I’m a huge fan is to understate the facts, almost like saying Barry Bonds is a pretty good baseball player.

    A couple of factual corrections, a long with a comment or two:

    1. You get 125 points for signing up, and you can pick up another 200 for filling out a “new user” survey. After that, as a free member, you get 5 points per day until you reach a maximum of 500. If you then ask a 200 point question, which drops your total to 300, you then get 5 points a day until you’re back up to the maximum.
    2. You can buy extra points, but it’s a lot more sensible to buy what EE calls Premium Services for $9.95 a month, which gives you unlimited points, so you can ask all the questions you want, as Brian noted. You can also earn the Premium Services for free. A lot of new members say it’s difficult; I can assure you that I’m no gee-whiz-bang genius (I’ve averaged about 100 answered questions a year), and I qualify pretty easily.
    3. EE’s top expert, noted by Deane above, is, in fact, unemployed, largely due to serious health issues. EE members thinks enough of him to have set up websites and donated money to someone they’ve never met. The Internet has its problems — spam, DOS attacks, hackers, phishers, and all the rest — but it has its moments of unbelievable good will as well, and the support he has received, in a time that would try any decent person’s soul, has been remarkable.
    4. Thank you for the kind words on the FAQ. I’d be disingenuous if I said I had nothing to do with it — in fact, I wrote a lot of it. On the other hand, I’m not on the EE payroll; like virtually everyone who posts on Experts Exchange, I volunteered.

    Finally, credit should be given where credit is due. The member who wrote QuickPost did so on his own time. Since he wrote it, he has continuously supported it and updated it, despite having NO official or quasi-official relationship with Experts Exchange (i.e., he is not a Moderator of the site, nor is he an employee of EE). He has no access to information that isn’t available to any other member. But like many of the members at EE, he’s found a “home” where his efforts are appreciated, and who, like Deane and me, have found EE addicting.

  3. EE Member for 1.5 years. Went to EE to get the answer to a question and ended up answering a few myself. I got hooked.

    Unlike other forums, there is an incentive to post solid solutions quickly and easy enough to understand even for the layman. I found a community of every kind of IT and Technical genius, and others that are only beginning to learn in those fields.

    It’s not just answering questions that makes it fun. The social aspects of the various areas only are what make this a community that you join and come to for help when you need it.

    Say what you will about other technical forums and newsgroups, EE is the Best In Show

  4. Having been one who once needed a quick answer to a problem I was having in September of 2000, I found Experts Exchange. I signed up for the free service as I only needed one question answered at the time, a very difficult problem (and I am experienced). The answer came within 5 minutes of posting…WOW!!!

    While there I began to scan some of the other questions that had been asked, and I knew the answers to many of them, so I quickly changed my status to Expert. At that time the maximum amount of points you could assign a question was 300, and quickly had achieved 10,000 expert points. The next month after that I got about 5,500. I wasn’t aware at the time but I had qualified for Free Kpro (Now called Premium Services), but you must maintain no less than 3,000 points per month to keep the Free Service, today that is only two 500 point questions.

    Waning, helping others on this site can be addictive, and I was. The following weeks and months, I found myself logging in anytime I could get away with it from work (time permitting) and during lunch breaks, then after work. I was astounded that there were 340,000 members; today it is around 3.4 million. You not only get the satisfaction of helping others in need, but you also learn from others and keeps you skills sharp.

    This site is not only for the pro’s, but any novice and with 250 or so different Topics to choose from they cover most everything under the sun, and from what I hear there will be another hundred or so added in the very near future. The insiders tell me that soon Electronics and Digital Home will be added, I can’t wait for those to come available.

    I have been to many Tech sites, but this is the one…period!

  5. While this site has good intentions, it fails miserabley on the simple idea that what you give you should also be able to recieve in an equal way. If I answer a question that is worth 500 points I should then have a bank balance of 500 points to ask a question, no strings attached!

    This is not the case with E.E. Instead they keep 2 balances, one is the ‘expert balance’ the other is the ‘account balance’, and neither shall the twine meet!

    While any other banking or barter system in the world would lock up someone who tried such a swhandig as this, E.E. somehow manages to get away with it untettered.

    Instead they force you to acquire 3000 points per month to have the privilege of asking questions pro bono. Even if you have 100,000 points in your ‘expert bank’, it means nothing if you don’t acquire your 3000 points for the month.

    Thumbs down, I’ll join their site again when they realise the ppl that make their site all that it is, is you and me, and all those ppl who spend hours of time helping others out. They charge their $10 or so per month and make their money off YOUR good nature, E.E. are not the good samaritans here, its the ppl that answer all the questions in their spare time.

  6. That’s how it used to be — you used to earn points by answering questions, then spend points by answering them. I don’t know why they changed it. The old way seemed much more intuitive.

  7. Deane,

    It hasn’t been that way since I’ve been a member (five years). The rationale I heard before the current owners took over (about two years ago now, after acquiring the site out of bankruptcy) is that because EE charges for its Premium Services — which can also be earned by answering questions — the “bartering” of answer points for question points can be seen by the IRS as “income”, a situation that EE doesn’t want to get involved in. Since, under the system that has existed for the past five years, there’s no nexus, it saves EE the considerable expense of trying to determine any value.

    And, as almost any Expert who has spent more than a couple of months on the site will tell you, it’s not about the points; it’s about getting the email notification that says you gave a good answer.

  8. yeah.. I agree with everyone, it is great resource and favorite spot on the net, I joined EE (as a paid member) in november 2004 started answering some questions in July, I have over 50,000 points by now and I am qualified for free premium services, but I still would like to pay monthly service charge because, it just makes me feel good and as long as I’m around I will do so, besides I can’t imagine myself without visiting EE at least once a day…

    God Bless everybody who spends their quality time at EE…

  9. EE is a great tool. I’ve used it for a few years. Its easy to criticise and easy to fall foul of the rules, but if you use it as it is intended you can get some good answers to very difficult problems very quickly. Its not been so hot on solving .NET problems for me, but still maybe 50% effective. I think you get to know which, where and how to ask questions with experience.

    I answer enough questions to maintain free premium services (maybe 3 to 10 answers per month) and sometimes ask about 3x as many questions as I answer which means the business benefits for me easily outweigh the effort to maintain premium services.

    You mentioned the poor gentleman with 4 million points who couldn’t get a job. Any employer reading his CV (including me) will be instantly turned off by the thought of paying someone to spend that much time on EE.

    You also mentioned difficulties with the interface. EE works fine when you have premium services and I would always use EE before google when trying to search for a solution to a given problem.

  10. Looks like all my friends are here, so I must add that not only will you find answers on this site, but it is also a relationship building experience. People with the same interests from all over the world working together to solve a Users Problems. There are no borders at this site. A great place to learn and network your skills. But I warn you, it can be an addicting experience. :)

    FE

  11. There is no need to emphasize on the usefulness of the site. Its obvious. World’s best IT (and non-it too i guess) professionals gather there. For different reasons. Some for fun, some for learning, some for helping people, some for even their own ego boosting. But all in all, the kind of resource pool this site has, is unthinkable.

    I joined just because another colleague of mine had, and got hooked on. Never really thought why. Today I helped 100s of people solve 100s of their problem. Despite the flaws with the site I am with it. The thing is – nothing is perfect. Neither is EE. I enjoy it, so visit it. As simple as that.

    Ranjeet Rain

  12. John above is perfectly right. It’s the benevolent people answering the Questions that make EE.com people a living. In short, they SELL question points to a category I will name “users”, and the other category (named “experts”) will answer the questions for free.

    I stayed on ee.com for one year and got 340 Kpoints or so, was the top expert (“guru” level) in PHP and MySql, and top expert in Pascal too.

    For the original poster of this article, for your information I think my ratio of “answered Q / participated Q” was about 80%

    At some point, I was disgusted by the commercial attitude of EE.COM and the lack of consideration they had for Experts that answer for free the questions and really make EE.Com work the way you users like it.

    Someone of EE.COM once wrote “It’s an American site for Americans” and received full approbation from other users. I can’t stand this and got completely upset by their attitude. The U.S.A. are not The Entire World and apart from spamming the rest of the world they don’t account for much of the good things in IT.

    One year after I quit EE.COM, I still get some thousands of points per month on it, each time they “clean up” the old questions ;-)

    Now I’m participating in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, completely free, really experts EXCHANGING system called http://www.europeanexperts.org

    For instance also, the search is fully functional without having to pay for “premium services”

    I’m happy to tell that top experts from all over the world followed me and are now entering their precious knowledge on http://www.europeanexperts.org for the benefit of all people over the world, and not only to enrich EE.COM staff.

    Best regards to all goodwill people,

  13. http://www.europeanexperts.org/ doesn’t work. I can’t even read the homepage. What sort of experts are involved in this? EE obviously charge money – they are providing a service – surely nobody believes the hosting, development, maintenance, marketing, administration, and legal running of EE costs nothing. I suspect the owners like to get paid also. It is probably because you have to pay for it it doesn’t look like http://www.europeanexperts.org/!!!! What is it with the IT industry that everyone believes they are entitled to something for nothing?

  14. Might as well join the post-several-months-late crowd with this rebuttal: serving doesn’t cost anything near $100 per-user-per-year. Yet, that’s what expertsexchange wants for “premium services”.

    I myself have no use for people who hide information behind solicitation. You’re an affront to internet community. I have yet to find another site that charges money just to answer common technology questions. Fortunately for many, the rest of the internet doesn’t charge for information.

    Information should be free, libre and gratis.

  15. I think the answerers should get cash for their work. Still, the original inventors went broke, so having somebody not go broke is a definite advantage. And one good answer in my first month as a premium subscriber made the cost very minor, to me. And I’m a veteran cheapskate.

    Therefor, I’ll complain and still use it.

    Dick

  16. I’ve found a site that’s a bit similar to EE, but free and based on some of the web 2.0 principles (tagging and AJAX). It’s called quomon.com and while it’s not nearly as used as EE yet, I think it’s going to be. It’s not as plastered with ads and it’s definitely easier to use. Worth checking out…

  17. Thanks for posting this Deane.

    I’ve been participating at EE for some 6 years as an expert and I’m (have been?) the #1 MS Access expert from 2002 till 2007 answering some 7,000 Access questions and posting over 40,000 comments. I was also active as a moderator (modulo and GranMod) for 4 years and posted in that capacity over 100,000 comments.

    When you think that such a track record does give you some credit you’re however at the wrong place at EE. I got called names by another member and no action was taken. When I guarded the site from the sometimes crappy comments of this member I got suspended and all links (some 40) in my comments pointing to my page holding previously Access samples and now stating my suspension were removed. (http://www.geocities.com/nico5038/) Finally asking the site owners for an explanation for this suspension gave no response at all.

    Looks to me that the statement ?It?s an American site for Americans? is all too true. The new owners have found a way to use innocent volunteers to generate a real cashcow that allows them to run an office with some 15 people and to pay the experts with worthless points that won’t even buy them a cup of Starbucks coffee.

    The new interface will have costed a lot of money, but besides the better looks it doesn’t load faster, doesn’t show the questioner anymore and is another example of the foolish American idea that it’s only the outside that counts.

    Finally the crappy answered questions (without a real answer and/or with broken links) aren’t getting any attention. The closure of questions to give the experts their points has the first priority as that’s what makes them coming back and getting hooked up.

    I’ve found another site http://www.thescripts.com that’s really for free and that does value experts. It’s growing fast and I meet a lot of old EE collegues there.

    Nic;o)

  18. Agreed. ExpertsExchnge is going down under baby. It’s quite a foolish idea that they can charge money for what others will offer for free:)

  19. I actually worked for EE beginning in 1999 and stuck thru with all the various owners until I finally quit after getting scheistered and backstabbed (and seeing many others cheated and being cheated) by those liars Randy Redberg and Austin Miller (splendid Christian hypocrits attending Atascadero Bible Church in Atascadero, CA, if you want to email their pastors). And, of course, if you’ve posted on EE since they took over, it’s a shame you never got to hear Randy and Austin talk about you behind your back. The guys are shameless in their sociopathy, narcisism and ruthless greed. They get a real charge out of being able to manipulate and exploit people and get filthy rich doing it. The site never had to become a paysite to stay afloat–that’s just another one of Randy and Austin’s calculated manipulations. So sorry guys, I can hope they finally get smoked by the laws they continue to break and the evil they continue to sow, but they (and the site) aren’t going under financially or traffic-wise. People are and will continue to be suckers.

  20. i hope i have found the EXPERTS EXCHANGE which i purchased some time ago. in any case it has taken along time to finally get here. my problem is with my pc. (1)i have much trouble in getting on line. when i get there i first get a blank page which finally and slowly opens to the web site which i frozen. i hit the ESC several times and/or press LOGO+SPACE+ENTER or CTRL +ALT+DELETE. a second ago i lost you returning to the theme page..

    imy mail is coming into WINDOWS LIVE MAIL..all mixed up as to date makes it ptetty difficult to keep up with my corresponence. also found the same mai;l is going inot OUTLOOK EXPRESS. i need to get rid of LIVE MAIL & OUTLOOK EXPRESS and have all my mail to COMCAST WEB!

    problems: connectivity (hopeful;ly this will get through (2)freezups (3) ability to move through then surf w/o problems.

    hope you can help me with these problems…………………………DOC

  21. I used to use them. Not anymore since their shady billing practices has ended up with them stealing money from me.

  22. e-e is a site with bunch of fake experts fooling even more stupid people. I have been part of it earlier and know that it works because there are always few idiots willing to pay for lousy answers and jobless experts available to answer questions.

  23. It’s a useful site but seems to be struggling for some larger focus. it’s getting a bit odd for an IT site in some ways. it’s expanded its ‘Zones’ to include all kinds of stuff like Automobiles and Politics. It’s not many IT sites you’ll find a top ten must read on in the Philosophy Zone that if it got read more widely would be like a version of the Danish cartoon thing.

  24. EE is nothing but a bunch of crap!!!!! Pure and simple FRAUD! And BEWARE your credit card…..they get you every time!!! Whether they helped you or NOT….

  25. It’s big resource. I’m a member of EE, it’s one of my favorites sites. You can have answer for simple question fast but sometim u must wait for a long time

  26. I am a member of EE since 2009, solved almost 4000 problems, have 4 Million points and 60 T-Shirts :) Asked 4 questions, did not get answer to any :) maybe there were no answer… addiction… like sharing knowledge, gives me satisfaction which I cannot find @ my job…

  27. EE is a very useful resource, and to its credit it has many outstanding members who offer great advice at a low cost

  28. Dear Jason,

    Looks like the EE staff is promoting their site here. You forget to mention that it’s a low cost (when you call 10$ low) per MONTH, and that adds up when you forget to cancel your account… Moreover, the outstanding members offer their advice for FREE and see no dime from the revenues, other than sometimes a T-shirts and lots of worthless “expert points”.

    Please stop using blogs for advertising.

    Nic;o)

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