A recent trend in blogging that's going to be mainstream very soon is to have your very own Q&A website related to the same topic your blog is about. This comes very handy for webmaster because of recently launched solutions and very convenient for readers because they can ask and answer stuff in a well-known environment, among a community they like. Before reading the reviews of the solutions we found so far, be sure to check out Inspired Forum to see what I'm talking about.
Everyone has questions they need answered. What better place then to ask them within a community that's focused and geared towards the fundamentals of what you're asking. Why not ask a question (i.e.) on technology in a place where those who are most knowledgeable on the subject can have but a simple chance, to answer it? And it doesn't stop there, why not engage in the exchange of questions and answers within a community that can lead to the growth of your reputation, allow you to become more knowledgeable, and one that gives you the opportunity to network with a variation of talents such as yourself? This is what you and your customers are seeking. A way for you to create an influx of interaction while attending to your customers needs. I use this term loosely, as customers can be the visitors that arrive to your website, clients, opportunists, or a combination of all sorts that are waiting for someway to interact with you or one another. In a world where the wealth of knowledge is considered power, can your customers questions afford not to have the chance at an answer?
This is exactly what a few several companies with an established online presence have aimed to answer: the need for a system that allows various levels of interaction which in return will give your customers that chance. Let us take a look at what these Questions and Answers gurus truly have to offer.
Qhub is an amazing web application that allows anyone without having any technical know-how to build and customize their own Q&A community with simplicity and ease. Qhub lets you target the community of your choice, and managing your Q&A website takes very little amount of time and effort. Qhub enables your users to start their own groups, connect with each other, and receive a quick notification by email when someone they know has asked a question. Once logged in, users can actually specify if which tags they'd like to watch and when someone asks a question tagged with the keyword you're watching you will also receive an instant notification. Qhub aims to empower you with the creation of an active community that supports itself from the ability to connect with multiple users to the automatic member notifications.
Features such as the option to connect with your Facebook account, Twitter integration, spell checking, mailshots to all members, and the advanced settings when you ask a question among others is what makes Qhub a valuable choice for creating your very own Questions and Answers website. Your community will be at ease because of Qhub's ability to implement the systemic moderation feature that allows administrators to actively monitor questions and answers throughout the entire system which trigger “fail safes” such as mispellings, the use of abusive language, and more.
The sign-up process only takes a few moments and once you're logged-in, you'll have full control over the customization and management of your website. You will have the ability to edit your background, add your own header, change the color of your texts and links, or use one of the quality pre-installed themes provided by Qhub. The control panel lets you moderate answers for abusive language, mis-spellings, and the power to instantly approve/disapprove questions or answers. You'll also have the option to add custom analytics code, domain forwarding, API access, integrate a questions widget on any webpage, custom ads and a domain of your choice. Simply said, if sign-up for Qhub, you'll reap the benefits of an overflow of options, for a simple yet powerful Q&A solution.
Stack Exchange has developed a way for users to create an easy-to-use, active, customizable Q&A community. They strive to live behind their knowledge exchange platform that enables you to run the same software seen on Stack Overflow with the option of code-based customizations for your Q&A websites aesthetics. It seems to be aimed more towards the individual who has learned the basics of CSS and HTML properties. However, this is not to say that it is a difficult application to work with, on another note, it's pretty easy to manipulate. Start by going through the quick sign-up process on the Stack Exchange website, choosing your SE domain, and creating an admin account after your confirmation email has been sent. The only complain I would have on this process is that users should be able to create the admin account simultaneously with the registration. It shouldn't be separate from the registration process. Stack Overflow is a bit pricey at $129-$1299/month when compared to Qhub which is free. Also, depending on the monthly plan you choose, your account is limited to several aspects such as the allowed page views, whether or not users will have public or private access, the type of server, and the level of tech support.
As soon as you login to your admin account you're prompted with a bootstrap guide that will allow you to choose the name of your site, customize your sites appearance, upload a custom logo, choose a primary custom domain, and customize the content on your site. You're able to invite people, create various tags, ask questions, and export your entire database in XML format. You can view your accounts page views and visits through a pre-installed system, however, you're also allowed to install Google Analytics for a more in-depth look at your sites statistics. From a users perspective asking a question isn't as quick as you'd like it to be. Mostly due to the fact that you're required to enter details in 3 text areas or your question will not be posted. You can choose with the click of a button to be notified by email of your choice for new answers to your questions, and the area where you enter the details of your question is equipped with advanced settings. Although StackExchange is a powerful solution for creating a Questions and Answer site, but users of the application seem to only begin to benefit if they have a large community with a viral user-base. Truthfully speaking, if you're just looking to create a simple Q&A site that's either free or doesn't require much of a budget, then the Stack Exchange platform isn't for you.
Shapado is a gloriously free and open source platform that allows you to build and deploy your own Question and Answer website. You can get the open source code here, of you can simply create your own Shapado-like website through the dynamic registration process. Websites generated through Shapado seem highly accessible, offer the ability to create niche focused groups, and gives you complete control of your site with the ability to fully customize the source code. Although free to use, one very notable fact is its resemblance to the Q&A websites created through the Stack Exchange platform. After a quick view of the site, in terms of look and feel, it closely rivals StackExchange websites, not only because of the idea that propels it, but through the visual structure. Which is a bit odd in itself. Regardless, Shapado isn't exactly technology oriented, but more social-based than anything.
Once you've logged into to your account and find your way to the Group area you created, you'll find various options for customizations and site management. The top navigation bar allows you to quickly ask questions, create tags, view/edit users, customize badges, and moderate all questions and answers. Shapado works on a point/rating system for Groups. Users are able to earn certain badges (i.e. Rockstar, Popstar, Famous Question, etc..) when they or their answers gain certain amounts of votes, visits, and views. Asking a question is relatively easy, and from a users perspective, it's extremely similar to how users are directed to ask questions on Stack Exchange websites. Shapado is great choice for the individuals who are looking to develop a community that can socialize and connect with a variety of groups based on similar interests for free.
OSQA is an Open Source Q&A System that lets you create an interactive community for free. Once you create your Q&A site, your users will be able to ask, answer, comment, and vote for questions with simplicity through the use of an elegantly designed system. Questions can be tagged by users with keywords that contain relevancy for a more organized structure of finding questions and answers. Licensed under GNU, you can download the OSQA project on GitHub. Registered users can log into their accounts and receive a quick overview of how many questions/answers they have, their amount of votes, badges, and the amount of tags used. They will be able to quickly view responses to their questions, edit email subscriptions, and see an outline of their favorite answers.
Asking questions is easy. Through the advanced settings users are able to edit the text, add images, code and links for a more descriptive question. This increases the chances of finding a user who will provide an accurate answer. Once users send off an answer, they are always able to come back and edit the content, change their notification status, and add/remove previous votes. The best answer will be chosen and displayed by the person who originally asked the question. OSQA is simple and organized platform that allows anyone with the required programming skills to setup their own Q&A site for free.
The registration process is generally exhausting as you have to enter a plethora of details and choose from several options. With your account you can add employees that will ultimately represent your company and be the “ambassadors” for answering questions, dealing with customers, concerns, and anything else that you specify for them to take part in. Since Get Satisfaction is first and foremost a customer service application for businesses, websites, and online applications, you will be prompted to add products and categorize them, add feedback widgets, and start topics for users to search for. From the eyes of a user the interface is aesthetically inclined, offers quick solution to having their concerns voiced, and gives the option of interacting with others that have similar interests. This is what a great online community is made up of, the ability to allow users to have their needs voiced and the various levels of interaction between users and the individuals who oversee these communities.
UserVoice is very much like GetSatisfaction with some similar aspects and several differences. UV allows your users to ask questions, suggest, vote, and comment all for feedback from you. The user experience is simplistic in its own way, offers quick accessibility, and delivers results. UserVoice aims to solve the problem of disconnection and miscommunication between you and your users, and with success I might add. You're able to place a “feedback” tab on the left or right side of your webpages and much like GetSatisfaction, when users click on the tab the background fades to a darker shade and all the focus and attention is placed on the user oriented box that pops-up. If the user wants to ask a question, they are immediately directed to a UserVoice hosted-forum specified for your company or website.
This is where UserVoice and GetSatisfaction differ. The GetSatisfaction feedback tab allows users to ask questions through the box that pops up, while UserVoice directs your customers to a forum. Once they've reached the forum, users are then able to enter details of their concerns with simplicity and ease. They can also vote on suggestions, subscribe to its feed, edit their profiles, and have a general overview of the recent activity on their account.
The admin panel is extremely easy to use and features amazing usability. You're able to edit forum options, get widgets, add/delete admin accounts, view suggestions, play with UV's API, and report bugs. Also, we've received word of the new admin's interface that UserVoice plans on implementing with analytics and more, if you sign-up now you're able to go for test drive. UserVoice is free to sign-up and use, however, if you want to have access to more features, and unlimited options, then plans start at $19/month.
All in Comparison
Take a look at the chart below. We've taken the above applications and created a visual comparison of the various important features each contain.
Top of the Q&A “Chain”
Taking a look at the above comparison chart which solution for your community needs would you choose? The choice is obvious – Qhub (that's why we chose it for Inspired Forum 🙂 . But why? What does Qhub really have that the others don't, and vice versa? Within this section we're going to dive into the comparison of the top 3 ranking solutions. Qhub, StackExchange, and Get Satisfaction in essence are an interactive Q&A/suggestion platform that give users the power to have their voices heard and enables communicative stability between you and your users.
Now lets dissect Qhub. This application ranks at the top because of its ability to connect you with your users through various aspects. For one, users can actually send a request to be your friend, you're then able to receive instant notifications as soon as one of your friends has asked a question. This is where most of the other applications fell back. On another level, users are able to connect their Facebook and Twitter apps with Qhub, so when they ask/answer a question it is automatically distributed among these social networks. This gives others who are not members the opportunity to view your users Q&A's for a much wider range of exposure that may ultimately contribute to the growth of your community. Again, the other two solutions lack this feature. Qhub also offered unparalleled strength when it came to the aesthetics of their user interface design. An area that's easily overlooked. Qhub also stabilizes the quality of your community by putting in place a systemic moderation feature that lets admin accounts manage any unsafe or disastrous content not suitable for your community. This in itself makes Qhub the natural choice for your Q&A needs.
When we take a look at Stack Exchange, we see a system that has been somewhat “cloned” by other Q&A platforms, and with good reason. Stack Exchange offered a more organized and programatic solution for companies and websites of all sizes ranging from small to enterprise. Most Q&A solutions seem to somewhat lack the ability to deliver customized packages to the larger customers. This is essential to the the companies who need a more advanced solution for their community. Apart from their ability to deliver custom solutions, Stack Exchange is also an ideal choice for the more back-end oriented developer, but a more problematic choice if your programming skills aren't up-to-par with SE's structure for editing your Q&A websites design. This is inevitably a downside for Stack Exchange since there are other Q&A systems (like Qhub) that provide a much faster and easier way to edit and change the way your site looks.
Get Satisfaction comes in the race neck deep with a whirl wind of features and functionality that gives most feedback/suggestion tools a run for it. GS's straightforward interface rivals that of most web applications in terms of how easy it is to begin to interact and have your voice heard. Users will visit your feedback forum and find it impressively easy to use because of the powerful combination it provides; fully searchable entries, sharing with Facebook, Twitter/other social networks, and its lightweight ability to help you develop online communities. Get Satisfaction is comprised of thousands of communities that try to keep this goal in mind; to find, address, and resolve issues. This makes Get Satisfaction a top 3 within the Questions and Answers solutions we took a look at. Many of these services aim at a higher level of interaction with mediocre results, meanwhile Get Satisfaction rises to the occasion and works to help both you AND the user solve your questions.
We've just finished comparing several of the best solutions for creating your own Q&A community, out of the ones we've outlined and taken in-depth look, Qhub ranked as the most viable option. However, I must suggest that you take a look at each of these solutions, test them out, and select which one works best for you. It's vital to choose accordingly, and along with the three following principles, your choice should result in an educated one. First you must test to find a level of versatility, and how easy, and simple it is for you and your users to interact with the application. Then you must asses each solutions strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their features. And last, what problem(s) can a Q&A site solve for you?
header image copyrighted by Karen Eliot