Get your questions answered with these resources

If you want to find someone to answer all those burning questions you have, finding the right question-and-answer resource is how to go about it.

The Web is arguably the best way to get your burning questions answered quickly. But finding online resources beyond search sites such as Google and Bing that will help you do that can be difficult.

Which services can you trust? Which will get you the best information? I've sifted through several question-and-answer Web sites, trying to find the most reliable services. Let's take a look.

Get your Q&A on

Ask Me Help Desk Ask Me Help Desk has an extremely active community that seems constantly willing to answer your questions.

When you get to Ask Me Help Desk, you'll need to first click on the category that best matches your query. So if you want to ask a question about business or technology, you'll have to click on either option. From there, you can ask any question that might be related to a particular topic on the site.

Since the site's community is so active, it's likely that you'll find a question that someone has already posed that's either exactly the same as yours or quite close. If you still want to ask your question, you can, but I found in my queries that finding the right answer was made easy by quickly searching the site.

I asked several questions to see how the site performed on different topics. I asked how many dog breeds there were (about 400, according to the top answer), looked to see if anyone knew what HTTP stood for (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and more. In almost every case, except for a medical question for which I'm still awaiting an answer, the question was already asked, and the answer was available on the site.

Ask Me Help Desk is a great service that will let you access answers for free. I just wish registration wasn't required to ask a question.

Ask Me Help Desk
Ask Me Help Desk will answer just about any question you have. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Askville Amazon's Askville is another take on the many question-and-answer sites on the Web. But unlike most of the other services, which allow you only to ask a question, Askville, which is free to use, will let you input details about your question to get a more desired response.

I found that when I used the detail option in my queries, I received the best response. I was able to ask the community a better question. For example, instead of asking how many dog breeds there were, I used the detail option to also ask Askville users how many terrier breeds are currently recognized by the American Kennel Club. It worked: there are 27 terrier breeds recognized by the AKC.

Askville's biggest issue is its design. It doesn't have a simple, easily navigable menu system like many of its competitors. Unfortunately, the site's front page is dominated by an enormous logo, a huge search box, and random questions that most people probably won't care about. A sleeker navigation pane would have been preferable. Besides that, I like Askville. The answers I got were generally informative. And thanks to such a large community, many of the questions you might ask are already on the site.

Askville
Askville features a little too much empty space. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Blurtit Blurtit is a free, well-designed question-and-answer site that unfortunately doesn't have the number of users it takes to make it a top contender in this roundup.

Blurtit is a free service, so you can immediately start asking and answering questions as soon as you get to the site. But after using it a while, you'll find that many of the questions you ask won't be answered.

For example, I asked it the dog breed number question. Blurtit offered a selection of questions that matched my query. When I clicked on them, no one responded. That's not to say that there aren't answers to questions (one query, for example--"what are the most dangerous animals on Earth?"--featured four answers, each containing a nice list of the animals you need to watch out for.), but considering that so many of my "simple" queries didn't have answers, it did take away from an otherwise nice service that, with more users, could be a real contender in this space.

Blurtit
Blurtit needs more answers to questions. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Mahalo Answers Mahalo Answers takes the standard question-and-answer formula and changes it up a bit by rewarding those folks who provide the best answers.

Although you can ask questions for free, you can also offer a "tip" to those who give the best answer to your question. When you do so, you'll need to upload some cash to Mahalo to exchange for Mahalo Dollars. The provider of the best answer receives 75 cents on the dollar; the remaining 25 cents of each Mahalo Dollar stays with Mahalo.

That reward system helps deliver some of the best answers of any service in this roundup. For example, I spent some considerable time sifting through the extremely informative answers found in the site's Business category. Everything from learning how to start a laundromat to investing in financial-services firms was included. And thanks to an active community, you should find that the site's users provide quick answers to your questions.

See CNET's full review here .

Mahalo Answers
Mahalo Answers uses cash to get better answers. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

KGB If you're on the go, and you're trying to find an answer to a pressing question, KGB might be a decent option.

By text-messaging a question to the company's 542542 (kgbkgb) number, you'll receive a response within minutes. According to KGB, those responses are sent by experts that research your topic to find you the best answer. Questions can range from where to find good food in your area to more pressing topics, like who your senators are. I sent a few queries to KGB, but so far, I've yet to hear back. KGB, which charges 99 cents per answer, is available only in the United States and Canada.

KGB's site features some of the most recent questions asked through the service, so you can find answers to topics you might care about without being charged for asking your question. It's a nice feature. I found topics ranging from a love-quote request (Aristotle's "Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.") to who won the 1961 World Series (The New York Yankees). Check it out.

KGB
KGB shows you what its users care about at any moment. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

WikiAnswers WikiAnswers is one of my favorite Q&A services on the Web. It features great content, interesting answers, and an active community.

When you input a question into the query box at the top of the WikiAnswers page, you'll be brought to those questions that other users have asked and have been answered. By doing so, I found information on different breeds of dogs, the most popular cars of the 1960s, and more, without waiting for a response.

If your query is unique, you'll be able to post your question in one of the many categories on WikiAnswers. I finally found a unique question--what size swimming pool should I buy?--that so far hasn't been answered. It should also be noted that you don't even need to sign up for the site to answer questions.

Questions and answers can be shared around the Web, giving the site a slightly more social feel than some of the other services in this roundup. Answers can also be improved, if other users find that they aren't descriptive enough. It's a nice option, since some sites feature answers that aren't quite as useful as they could be.

WikiAnswers
WikiAnswers has an extremely active community. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Yahoo Answers Yahoo Answers is one of the most reliable services in this roundup. It's also one of the most informative sites included here.

When you first get to Yahoo Answers, which you can access for free, you have the option of browsing all the questions that have been answered, seeing some of the best answers, or asking a question yourself.

The sheer number of questions on Yahoo Answers is incredible. Everything from stopping a particular dog breed from pulling on a leash to getting help with a math problem is there for the taking. And for the most part, the answers the community gives are spot-on. Thanks to a voting feature, determining the best answers given is quite easy.

In what might be a testament to the value of Yahoo Answers, I had a very difficult time finding a unique question that hadn't already been answered by the site's users. It became so bad that I tried asking questions about ancient history (what was the capital of the Roman Empire in 150 A.D.?).

Much to my surprise, the site had an answer. So suffice it to say that if you want an answer to your question, and you don't want to wait, Yahoo Answers is the place to be. But if you're lucky enough to ask a unique question, time stamps on the answers indicate that you won't have to wait too long--many of the answers I saw were added within a couple hours of a query hitting the site.

Yahoo Answers
There are several unique questions on Yahoo Answers. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top 3

1. Yahoo Answers: With so many users and so much content, Yahoo Answers proves its worth time and time again.

2. Mahalo Answers: By rewarding people for offering the best answers, Mahalo Answers delivers a compelling service.

3. WikiAnswers: It might not be as useful as Yahoo Answers, but WikiAnswers delivers an experience that is tough to beat.

Updated at 7:34 a.m. PDT to pinpoint kgb's response time.

About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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