Using crowdsourcing to rank user-submitted questions, suggestions and ideas

Information, knowledge and culture are central terms in the human freedom and human development. How they are developed and exchanged in our society critically affects the way we see the state of the world as it is and how it can be. Series of changes in the technology and economic organizations and social production practices create new opportunities for how to make and exchange information, knowledge and culture.

Along with terms such as collaboration and cooperation, open source movement and others, the interconnected world saw the emergence of another model – crowdsourcing.

If by any chance you are not familiar with the term crowdsourcing – it was coined by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in the June 2006 issue1 of Wired magazine and crowdsourcing  describes a new web-based business model that harnesses the creative solutions of a distributed network of individuals through what amounts to an open call for proposals. Howe offers the following definition: “Simply defined, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.”

You might ask why on earth I am blogging about a subject that has already spanned on thousands of pages both online and in printed format. Well I am actually interested with software that facilitates crowdsourcing to rank user-submitted questions, suggestions and ideas. You might perceive Digg as such a service. How it works is by someone creating a topic and allowing users to submit questions, ideas, and so forth, while also being able to vote on (up or down) other posts and be able to post comments on questions. The goal is for people to determine through voting which questions/ideas/suggestions are the best and should be asked/implemented.

There are already several examples of great software, and of course one of the leading ones is Google Moderator that has been widely used by Obama’s administration and US election process, as well as to find the best questions to be asked to British PM David Cameron in 2010.

In fact Google Moderator was initially established as a Google internal tool that gathered questions, which were then voted on before regular Google TGIF meetings, where the tech company executives answer them. 

Google Moderator is great to use before meetings, or during events for Q&A sessions, but if you are working for a company which has special policy over privacy issues, maybe it is not the best practice to use Google Service. Many people actually are worried due to  US government ability to cease information through the infamous Patriot Act. Furthermore, you might want to get to host your own voting software internally, and that is why I decided to check out what are currently the options for providing such a service.

Let’s start with Google Moderator – it is pretty easy to use – just set up user name, and a place of residence and you are ready to go and create your series.
Once you create the subject of your question, you are sent to the dashboard, where you can answer yourself, track votes, answers, add new topics, etc. The best thing is that you can export your series in a .csv file for future reference and data analysis.

 Unfortunately, you can’t host the service on your server and if you are using it for private correspondence, Google Moderator can posit certain security risks as mentioned previously in this post.

Even Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard, has developed an open-source tool for ranking  user-submitted questions, suggestions and ideas and it is called Question2Answer.  You need Apache and MySql to install it on your server, it takes about 10 minutes and the service is amazing. Once you set up the service, you can create questions with additional information about them, use tags to categorize the types of questions, as well as sending private messages to other users.

Additional advantage for Question2Answer is the ability to add plug-ins to the service and enhance it – examples are availability of Facebook Login, AdSense and others. 

One of the things I love about the service is the option to decide how much points you can give for the various activities like posting a question, answering it, voting on it, having an answer selected as the best, etc. So depending on you view for the importance of every activity, you can assign various points.

Question2Anwer is one of the best open-source services available. It is really to set up, work and support, very user-friendly.

In the same spirit is the next software – OSQA, again open source Q&A system, it is  is written in Python and powered by the Django, this means that the service is limited for people who haven’t got the support.  You can use OpenID, Facebook or Twitter for logging into the service.

You can post questions, answer and vote on them. Moreover, the points you receive for answering, voting and other activities, later act to establish the level of moderation privileges the users receive.

Unfortunately, OSQA has less features than Question2Anwer, with the latter more actively developed than OSQA as well.

The next service is called, a project from the MIT Media Lab, and is intended for conference or events. You can download it from GitHub. You can create conference, schedule and for every meeting, users can create posts, vote on them, post during the event question, opinions, links, and various other resources to make your conference even more participatory. It is very easy to use, has some great options and of course it is free.

As a conclusion, in my opinion the two best services were Google Moderator and Question2Anwer. I hope that many more open source systems will be established and used by businesses and educational organizations. They are extremely useful for determining the best questions and answers for particular topic and might bring considerable advantages before business meetings, community meetings – especially for local government and so forth.

  1.  Howe, J. (2007). Did Assignment zero fail? A look back, and lessons learned. Retrieved November 30, 2012 from