For the longest time I’ve had this idea. “How old is Romeo?” and many variations on that question are, by far, my most popular search topics. This points to a growing trend – people do not just type keywords into their search engines. They ask questions. Many “answers” sites have sprung up to focus on exactly this trend Yahoo Answers, Wiki Answers, Mahalo Answers, Answers.com …
Here’s the problem, though. All of these communities are general purpose. They all run on that Wikipedia, “the community will take care of itself” model. I disagree that this works for specific topics. What if you ask a Shakespeare question on an answers site where there’s not enough Shakespeare expertise? Trust me, I’ve been there. I hang out on some of these boards. It upset me to see answers that were often low quality, badly explained, and sometimes just plain wrong.
Thus Shakespeare Answers was born. With it I hope to create the #1 destination for answers to Shakespeare questions, from the easy “What happens in Act 4 scene 1 of Hamlet” questions to the more open ended stuff like “Did Gertrude know what Claudius did?” You can ask questions, answer questions and comment, as well as voting on your fellow geeks’ efforts.
What’s in it for the answerers?
Well, you get to create a profile for yourself, which includes a link to your own site. From there you start building up reputation. Everytime you answer a question and people vote for your answer, you gain some credit. Credit gets you various badges/achievements on the site. If you’re at all interested in associating your name and presence on the web with “hey, I know a little something about Shakespeare,” then this is about to be a great way to do that.
With a little programming I was able to coax Google to spit out a few thousand Shakespeare questions to get us started. Several blog regulars have already been hard at work getting a headstart on their reputation scores by digging in and answering questions about their favorite plays. There’s plenty to choose from. Multiple answers to questions are welcome (and encouraged!), especially when opinion or interpretation come into it.
If you can’t find any questions you’d like to answer, don’t be shy about adding your own! And yes, you can answer your own question.
What’s in it for the askers?
There’s competition in this space, no doubt. You can just as easily head off to Yahoo or WikiAnswers with your question. What’s the difference? Here, we’re creating a community that’s entirely about Shakespeare, run by people who deeply and truly care about getting you the best possible answer because they want more Shakespeare in the world and this is one of a myriad ways for them (us!) to do that.
I hope that anyone with a Shakespeare question who ends up on Shakespeare Answers will come away not just with a cut and paste answer that they can drop into their homework. Instead I hope to spark something in people that interests them in the subject, and makes them stick around to learn more.
A site like this lives and dies by votes. Who had the best answer to a question? Which questions are the most popular? The only way to know the answer to either of those is for as many people as possible to vote. Don’t be shy. There is no limit to the voting (although, of course, logical limits apply – like you can only vote for something once).
I can prime the database with a few thousand questions. But what we really need for success is a few thousand users, and for those users to be voting. This will enable the site to take its own shape. What will be the most popular play, Hamlet or Coriolanus ? What sort of answer will be the most popular – long and encyclopedic, or short and snappy? I can’t choose – those will only evolve over time, and with your input.
I’d love to hear people’s feedback on this idea. I’ve had the domain and the database for a long time, and had always hoped to build a site from scratch to my specifications. That wasn’t happening. I did however find a framework from bringing such a site up in a hurry. What this means is that, to my eye, it’s not exactly what I wanted. I see the rough edges perhaps more than others will. So it’s very important to me to hear what people think, and how I can make the site better. I plan to take a backseat on this one – I will not be racing people to the #1 karma spot. I fully expect somebody to earn that honor. What I can do is manipulate the look and feel, and overall functionality of the site.
I’m especially interested in ways to give the site a Shakespeare theme. You’ll see little details like requests to “ask thy question.” I’m open to more of that. Anywhere you see text that you think could be spun into something a bit more Elizabethan / Shakespearean, tell me tell me. I’d love to hear it.
Most importantly, spread the word! Tweet it, share it on Facebook, take it into your classrooms and have your students post their questions. I know I’ve got a fair share of teachers here, and I’d love to work *with* you on this one. I very much do not plan to make a “do your homework for you” site, I hope everybody knows me well enough to know that. Have faith, teachers, that if one of your students ends up looking for the answers on a site of mine? They’re going to come away with more Shakespeare information than they know what to do with!
Ok, time for me to shut up and let you check out Shakespeare Answers!