You've got questions about Charleston. Will you buy answers?

The program has a code name of Cash for Craniums.

Would you pay a small fee for timely, quality answers to your Charleston questions?

This post builds off of a tweet by Jay Rosen about a vision for a Web site that has a question box that says "What is your question? Journalists are standing by..."

Now, the core idea is nothing that new, take for example Amazon's Askville. But his idea does hit on the rarer strain in that it focuses the question on those that know answers, in lieu of the standard crowd sourcing.

Such a site would offer timely and more accurate answers. 

Where the idea becomes doubly interesting is that by offering a quality, custom-tailored product (that's the answer) there's something that one can sell.

And so the thought struck me: What if we offered system where the Charleston community could tweet, text, or otherwise submit questions to us and be given timely, public answers by individuals that were well versed in the topic?

Would you pay for it?

A few FAQs

How much would it cost? There are many ways to implement such a system, but what comes to mind is selling blocks of credits, with each credit being based around something like 50 cents and becoming cheaper the more credits you buy.

Why the [explecitive] would I pay for this? Can't I just Google the answer? Well, if you having luck Googling the answer, good for you. But not everyone is a Google pro, nor are all answers within Google's indexes. As "Charleston semi-experts" we have contacts and knowledge that are sometimes better than Google.

Would you refuse questions? If the question was unanswerable or very broad in scope it could be refused (say, "What's the long term implication of a 1% tax hike on Charleston's tax base.")

Could people get refunds? The asker could reject answers that don't, well, answer their question.

How timely would the answers be? I think the default one-credit question would get a larger time frame, say 6 hours. But one could pay more for god-dangit-answer-me-now questions. Perhaps there'd even be a phone hotline.

Could citizens answer questions? What I envision is a site like ArrayShift where there would be the capability for discussion around the questions. Perhaps there would be an option for community-only answers that are free, I'm not sure.

Why not just use crowd sourcing sites? While in many instances this works find, often someone will want a more authoritative accountable answer that is guaranteed to be answered and done so in a timely fashion. Crowd sourcing does not excel at this. Additionally the local angle of this idea further limits the crowd to be sourced. [added 2009/12/13 4 p.m.]

Librarian desks offer similar online services, so why would I use this? This one had me thinking for a bit. When dealing with local issues, librarians know a lot and could do much of what I've outline above. But at the same time, they can't answer all the questions.

So where to draw the line? Well an exchange with Jay Rosen on twitter concluded with Rosen saying: "... they are complementary services. Librarians handle: there's an answer for that. Journalists handle it when there isn't."

Of course the public won't really know if there's already an answer or not. So, to me, the answer for my question is to find a way for the two services to work in tandem. Complementing quality and reducing costs overall. Librarians field what they can and the rest coming to us. Obviously there would be no fee on our end for answers by librarians. Lot's of questions arise as to how the two services would interact and if they could at all. -- But in a perfect world ... [added 2009/12/13 4:45 p.m.]

Further reading

jeffsonderman: Improving news with user-directed assignment desks Idea for Q&A site that sparked this one


What's really exciting about this is that it fits well into the new business model of giving away the basic journalism (that's the generic news) and monetizing custom service (that's the questions.)

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