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?)