I have been watching the development of the new Q&A feature in LinkedIn for awhile. Overall, I am very impressed by the way it works and think that it should make LinkedIn more useful for those who aren’t already aggressive users of the service. I have a few comments grouped around a few themes:
Public vs. Private questions – I like the ability to make questions private. There are certainly some questions and topics where I am looking for input on a sensitive or otherwise private topic and I like the ability to have those questions stay off the general radar. The interesting thing about public questions, though, is that it’s the first real signal I have seen as to what’s on the mind of other LinkedIn users. Browsing the categories and specific questions gives me some sense as to what’s on the mind of the community.
Expertise identification – There have been a lot of systems that have tried to identify expertise within groups or organizations. To date, the two polar approaches have been profiling (look at where someone sits in the organization, profile his/her inbox, look at his/her search behavior, etc) or explicit declaration of expertise. Neither has worked particularly well in the past, but this Q&A feature strikes me as a good way to tease out expertise or interest without having to have users explicitly declare it. It has the added benefit of exposing that expertise so that others can evaluate which expert might most relevant given a particular topic.
Structured Q&A is like blogging for people who like to write and are busy – Eric Schmidt, our CEO, has often remarked that people have a lot of free time on their hands these days. I think it’s true, but there is a segment of people who need to be pointed toward productive uses of that time. Structured blogging (and that’s what I think Q&A systems are in the end) offer just such a focus. I think it’s also part of the beauty of something like Yelp – if you point people toward a topic or focus area and give them good tools to communicate, you can generate some interesting user-generated content.
The funny thing about Q&A systems is that it’s easy to think that your question is unique. I have posed a question that I am quite sure that many others have already asked and there wasn’t a system prompt to point me toward similar threads. I am sure something like this is in the works.