Users of the eclectic questions and answers service Fluther have a new way to post questions and keep an eye on answers. Early Wednesday the company rolled out support for instant messaging through the use of an IM bot. By messaging the Flutherbot, your question will get posted immediately with any replies getting sent back as both instant messages and to whatever e-mail address you specify.
The service is limited to AOL IM users for the time being, although Fluther founder Ben Finkel tells me bots for other protocols are on the way in the next couple of weeks.
When I first heard about this I was a little worried that some of the protective filters that keep truly dumb questions from making it on the site had effectively been lifted. The site still relies heavily on user moderation to weed out the chaff, but to me the idea of someone simply being able to fire off an IM to post a question seemed like a potential pitfall.
The good news is that users need to jump through a couple of hoops before a question will show up on the front page. For instance, you have to type out the subject, description, and tags as separate IM messages before again verifying that you want to post the question. It's not as easy as simply sending a stray IM to the bot and having it go live to the site. Nor is it hard enough to make you want to visit the site to do the asking.
Finkel also tells me that "users without sufficient 'lurve' points [Fluther's karma system] will have their questions go to a pending area when asked from IM, where our moderators can approve them. We'll keep playing with these rules and tweaking them as necessary. Since quality is paramount to us, so we're going to be vigilant in ensuring this new feature doesn't lower it."
Questions asked through the IM bot get a special IM tag, just like those sent through the site's iPhone portal. There is, however no way to sort through these short of using the search feature in your browser.
I continue to be impressed by Fluther. Admittedly I use it rarely over simply typing my question into Google, but some of its flourishes like showing you who is answering your question in real time, and clumping together related questions makes it a site both a resource and a source of entertainment.