Tools for Transbearency: Q&A Sites for Open Government


Q&A sites have been around for quite a while, Ask MetaFilter and Google Answers being among my early favorites. Newer services like Hunch and Quora are gaining in popularity while even Facebook is testing the waters with its own Q&A feature.  While there are plenty of question and answer services to choose from, each can be leveraged differently depending on your aim.

What sets these services aside from your typical Google search is that they provide for more nuanced answers by allowing users to reply to one another based on their own personal experiences. An added benefit comes in the ability to find and communicate with specialists in your area of interest.

While open government and transparency may be novel concepts to many on these services, open government advocates are almost guaranteed to find someone who can help with their questions, with the added opportunity to add to the conversation.

Of the more recent Q&A services, these are three of my personal favorites.

1. Quora


Users can both answer and ask questions using Quora, categorize the Q&A, edit the questions of others for the sake of clarity and follow topics. It’s a simple way to stay updated on topics while allowing you to offer your own insight.

From, “The goal of Quora is not objectivity…but canonical consensus. Quora’s self-defined measure of success will be the number of pages that provide better information than anywhere else on a topic.”

2. Formspring


With this service, you play the interviewee and the moderator. You invite your friends and fans to ask you anything and whichever question you choose to answer will show publicly. It’s also quite useful for going straight to the source to ask your questions.

3. Aardvark


You ask questions to your Aardvark network either through IM or directly from their site. Questions are matched to keywords your friends have noted in their profiles and anything that doesn’t match goes out to the general Aardvark community. It also works in reverse; periodically, you will be pinged to answer questions based on your keywords.


The power of these sites and the services like them is that communication isn’t a one way street: instead of just asking questions, you get to provide your own expertise to the people who need it. For a subject like open government, which covers a variety of issues on local, state, and federal levels, this sort of exchange is incredibly useful for building a solid knowledge base informed by diverse expertise. I know there are many Q&A sites out there, are there any you like, which ones?