I could have been blogging, but instead I've been sucked into the world of LinkedIn Answers. The idea is similar to something like Yahoo! Answers, except it is contained behind the walls of LinkedIn and it is "designed to allow professionals to exchange expertise."
Now, the idea of a closed question and answer forum isn't that new. Even within the firewall, many organisations already have had similar forums or systems in place - for example, CSC has a global question and answer forum, called Request for Assistance, that pre-dates Web 2.0. So what makes LinkedIn Answers special?
Firstly, lets look at but put aside some of the nice features in LinkedIn Answers - for example:
- Personalisation - I can see all the questions I've placed and the answers I've submitted; and
- RSS - You can subscribe to a feed of new questions.
These nice but don't make it special. I think what really makes this LinkedIn question and answer system a little different is the connection back to the social network that is at the core of LinkedIn:
- I can choose to look at questions only from people in my network;
- I can restrict questions to only people I select from my network; and
- You can nominate other experts in your own network as people who can answer someone's question.
However I can see some future problems for LinkedIn Answers as it continues to grow in popularity:
- The volume of questions (and answers) is already a little overwhelming, and there is no way to tag questions other than with the categories defined by LinkedIn (incidentally they need to add a feed for questions just raised by people in my own network);
- There is no way of restricting a question to people who work in organisations I'm affiliated with in some way other than a direct connection; and
- With the push towards more open social networking platforms, will the pressure to open up erode some of the trust and social capital that is probably driving the current popularity of this new feature with LinkedIn members?
The first two points can be solved with improvements to the platform (look at Facebook to see how some of this might work), but the last is something quite different and relates to what motivates people to ask and answer questions.
Another issue to consider is what do we do with existing in-house Q&A systems - enhance them with the features we see in LinkedIn (therefore needing some kind of internal networking system) or move them outside the firewall?