One of the beauties of social media is the opportunity to ask your network and extended networks a question and get an answer quickly. Often it comes from from people with hands on experience. If you need to know about how long an open bottle of wine will last, a trick to make your web site load faster, which video camera to buy or how working remotely differs from in an office, there’s somebody out there who knows and is happy to help.

Crowd-based information sites have been around for a long time. One of my favorites is Aardvark, which allows a user to ask a question and then other users answer them. I’ve got the app on my iPhone and I tend to use it when I’m waiting in line or killing some time. Unfortunately as soon as Aardvark was acquired by Google it pretty much went to[…]

Fluther is another such site and though it seems the team may have jumped ship for Twitter recently, the site is still up and running with questions ranging from “Should a Vegetarian expect special dishes at a party?” to tips for professional work-flow management.

Probably the hottest of this genre right now is Quora. Quora seems to attract a more business focused following, and when Robert Scoble muses that it might replace blogging, it turns heads. I agree with Scoble that Quora has paid close attention to what works about Facebook, Twitter and yes, even Google Wave and combined it into an easy to use and compelling product. Of course, being created by some or the  brightest minds from Facebook doesn’t hurt. In addition, since opening to search engines a question on Quora can pop up on a Google or Bing search fast, getting those of us who still Google everything for answers an even better result.

It’s interesting to see the traffic for all three sites for the last year. (courtesy Compete)

So, besides answering questions what can these sites offer? Most obviously establishing your personal authority on a topic and building your brand as a generous and thoughtful person. Social media is social and people appreciate a congenial answer that solves their problem.

Are you using one or all of these sites? What’s your experience been? Upside? Downside?

Join Quora and let’s talk about something. You can send me questions directly here.