Yahoo Experts

I don’t know if all of you are familiar with Yahoo! Experts (experts.yahoo.com), but I hope that my impressions of contributing to the Yahoo! Store expert section will be of interest to everyone.

The Internet offers many exciting possibilities for creating an environment where people can connect with each other to share and exchange information. And what a great idea to create Yahoo Experts, a place where knowledge-seekers can connect with knowledge-givers in order to learn.

This is how it works. A person asks a question to a group of experts, and can then expect to receive one or more answers within a short amount of time from self-proclaimed experts. The person seeking information can then rate the answers received; true experts who receive consistently good ratings will rise to the top of the list over time. Conversely, experts who receive poor ratings will move down the list. So the system is democratic and self-organizing, but it also has the characteristics of a functioning market.

Without a market there can be no exchange. And for people to want to participate in the market, the market has to offer incentives to its participants. Many markets thus involve the exchange of goods and services in return for money. In the case of Yahoo Experts, the knowledge seeker “buys” information, and the expert “sells” information. The incentive for the buyer is to increase his/her knowledge; the expert participates in the hope of increasing his/her reputation.

The idea behind Yahoo Experts is deceptively simple, and has all the necessary ingredients for being a successful service.

The reality is disappointing though. Yahoo Experts suffers from many surprising shortcomings:

       
  • What use is it if people have to keep asking the same questions over and over again because there is no way of searching for similar past questions and answers? What a waste to keep re-inventing the wheel.
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  • And why is it not possible to display messages by date? It would seem logical to see the most recent messages first, instead of having to navigate through many pages of past messages.

If only Yahoo! could have followed through with what is a great online tool!

But there are also important lessons to be drawn for your own organization because the value of an information-sharing culture is pretty obvious in my opinion.

When an employee leaves an organization, his or her knowledge leaves too. This will increasingly be a problem in a world where people move from job to job. New recruits will have to be re-trained, and the same questions will be asked over and over again. Re-inventing the wheel will be a real drag on corporate efficiency. A system that can at least partially capture employees’ knowledge will become more and more important.

Not many people nowadays would argue that it is good to share information, but you cannot just expect people to start sharing information just because management says it’s a good thing to do. Traditionally, positions of power were established by hoarding knowledge, supported by strict lines of communication. People have to trust such an information-sharing system, and get tangible benefits by contributing to it. Management has to support this culture by words and deeds, and compensation should be partly based on how well people share information.

Organizations that do a good job of treating information and knowledge in such a way will have a distinct competitive advantage. And I think that organizations of all sizes will benefit.

There are many practical ways that technology can be used to help support a knowledge-sharing organization; Yahoo Experts is one example of how technology can help (despite the shortfalls).

But the hard part is to instill a culture that values information and knowledge-sharing.