Oct 27, 2011

Mauritius is not yet ready for Q&A web sites

If you are wondering what exactly a Q&A (Questions & Answers) website is, it's a website where users ask questions and other users answer. The most popular Q&A website is without doubt Yahoo! Answers, which, as far as I am concerned, is the only Yahoo! product we should all still be bothering about. You can find out more about Q&A websites on Wikipedia.

Since I'm bothering to write about Q&A websites on this awesome Mauritius blog, it is to express my concerns that Mauritius is not yet ready for such websites. While Q&A websites are plentiful on the Internet and range from general websites to more specific topics (some of which are downright dodgy but I will refrain from linking to these), there are actually only 2 Mauritius-related Questions & Answers websites.

The first Q&A website about Mauritius is Answers.mu (note: as pointed out in the comments section, Answers.mu actually came well after Clever Dodo -- by "first Q&A website about Mauritius", I am merely referring to the first website I will be discussing and NOT the first one that was launched; I apologize for the misinformation), which was created by Akash Callikan this year (he's the guy behind the Le Matinal website). I was inspired to write this article after signing up for Answers.mu, visiting it quite regularly since I am personally a big fan of Q&A websites, and eventually getting frustrated with the whole website. I first found out about the website via a traditional newspaper and my discovery of the website had nothing to do with the Internet, which says a lot about the marketing of the website (more on that later).


Answers.mu is an excellent concept, especially considering the complete lack of competition as far as Mauritian Question & Answers websites are related. When Answers.mu was created, its only competitor was Clever Dodo. As such, it should not be very hard to be listed within the first three results on the first page of Google. I have not gone into determining the volume of search and the competition for the website's audience but I'm positive the competition should be extremely low.

My main gripes about Answers.mu have nothing to do with its marketing though. A first issue is that the website is unusable. The text color is extremely annoying and I often find myself logging out after only fifteen minutes browsing the website (which is actually a lot given the website's apparent small user base). As for the top menu with the black background, I cannot even read the damn thing without squinting. However, even these usability concerns are a distant second behind the main problem with Answers.mu.

Answers.mu
Answers.mu


The biggest problem about the Mauritius Q&A website Answers.mu is that the community is mainly comprised of trolls. Now, I'm not saying everybody who signed up on Answers.mu is a troll with nothing better to do than to engage in Internet warfare. In fact, I signed up myself, so this alone shoots down all your mass conspiracy theories. In most cases, it would have been easy to chalk it off to the users themselves and to argue that the webmaster is not actually responsible for what's happening on his website and what the users are using it for (also known as The Facebook Excuse).

Except it is totally the webmaster's fault in this case! The huge flaw with Answers.mu's model is that it is using explicit incentives to encourage people to participate on the website. You are only awarded points (which to be fair cannot actually be used on anything other than to brag about them) but this has led to most users posting garbage questions and garbage answers to go with these to rack up their points. There are also many cases where questions are evolving into forum-style threads and the moderators (if any) seem quite unresponsive to these.

Answers.mu's concept of gift questions, where whoever first gets the right answer to a question, is also a poor decision as it means people are visiting Answers.mu simply for these particular questions. Below is an example of a gift question on Answers.mu.

Which of the following gives you the best survival chance? You must explain why this is so.
1. Flip 5 heads in a row or get your head cut off
2. Roll two sixes when throwing dice or eat cyanide for dinner
3. Roll a 4 twice in a row or be drawn and quartered
4. Get dealt 2 kings (standard 52 card deck; 2 cards dealt) or jump from the top of the Cyber Tower in Ebene


These gifts are probably given by sponsors but my guess is that Answers.mu will eventually face a huge problem in retaining its users once they figure out these gifts are not worth the hassle. Attracting news user on a long-term basis is another issue that will without doubt pop up.

In contrast, Clever Dodo, the other Mauritius Questions & Answers website, is actually well-done. The layout is extremely user friendly and the users frequenting the website are actually helpful. I have not signed up for Clever Dodo, but you do get the feeling that a community actually exists there. From what I have seen, the moderators are actually taking their duties seriously and actively moderating the website.

CleverDodo.mu
CleverDodo.mu


It probably will not matter to both webmasters, but Clever Dodo is actually more search engine friendly than Answers.mu, which is funny because the Answers.mu owner states that he specializes "in building user-friendly and well-structured W3C standard-compliant websites [sic]". However, a user-friendly and well-structured website should be easy to navigate(I still cannot use the top menu), not hurt my eyes and use a flat structure. This is not the case as each question's link on Answers.mu includes a question folder, which is completely necessary and which should not be that hard to remove (example below).

http://www.answers.mu/question/how-to-make-money-for-life-in-limited-time/


As a more general outline of these two websites, while Clever Dodo is clearly better, the user base on both websites is however still quite small. My guess is that Mauritians clearly do not have much time for such websites when they could be instead be spending all their time on Facebook and reading this blog. In any case, both websites are completely invisible on Google unless you actually know their name. A search of "q&a websites mauritius" yields nothing when they should logically be targeting these for traffic.

They do seem to have proper visibility for related queries on Google.mu but their main traffic should come from foreigners and thus other versions of Google (I verified on Google US, since it has the potential for the most traffic). In this aspect, Clever Dodo is winning as its home page title (Clever Dodo - Mauritius Questions & Answers) includes its main keywords. It would however gain from a rewrite though as it can easily be further optimized and I do not understand the point of putting the brand name first.

As usual, sharing is your best friend. I am also eager to feedback from both communities' users as long as these are not limited to trolling and spamming. If you want to troll me, it's easier to do so by sharing this post on Twitter and Facebook.