Idea #7: “Twitter Answers”

We all know that conversations on Twitter can be confusing to follow.

Here’s a small example that I posted on Skitch awhile back:

Confusing Twitter replies 'show conversation' example

    Part of the problem is that the original tweet isn’t shown. But the times seem to make little sense at first glance. It requires a Math minor at least to figure out what’s going on and this is a simple example.

Ben Hamill of Austin on Rails built a site to make the reply chain a little simpler to follow called You enter a particular tweet and it shows the reply chain.

Joshua Schachter (of Delicious fame) built something interesting for having a focused conversation about a single topic (with the option of just having the discussion over there and not on Twitter) called A Tiny Thread.

Here are a couple of examples of conversations that I wish I could have saved:

bmizerany tweet about a public conversation thread

joestump comment about a thread he's been having with markimbriaco

Hopefully Twitter will fix conversation viewing as one of those much discussed holes to be filled in the future. It’s really surprising to me that it is still so difficult.

So here’s the idea (sort of related, but a bit different). I’m sure this exists in some form at this point, please let me know in the comments. A good implementation really needs to exist.

You know how somebody will ask a question like: “What are the best action movies of all time? I want to watch one tonight on Netflix.”

Maybe i respond to the person or go back and do a search and try to look for some answers. The person may or may not group them together and actually “post them back to the list”.

So what this site would do is… given a “question tweet” provided by your users… the site would go and find all the answers, pull them out and display them (with references) to the original tweets. So you could have people give you an explicit question tweet or maybe in the future, you could actually poll the public timeline looking for tweets that end in a question mark. Of course, that’s harder to get right and would be error-prone.

Now, once a question has been incorporated into the site, then you could actually have people Digg-style up or downvote the answers. This is also optional, but it may also give you a more relevant answer list. You could also have a button like “this is a bad answer” or “this is irrelevant”, and throw it out if enough people mark it as such. With some user moderation, this could become a very interesting collection of questions and answers, all sourced from Twitter.

So like Yahoo! Answers, but with Twitter data. You wouldn’t have to be a member of the site to partcipate or explicitly mention the site in any way. People would suggest question tweets, sorta like Tweeting Too Hard, and the site would collate the answers from there.


Known Implementations: None (please tell me this exists!)

(Found these in the “Find answers to your questions” section of this Twitter post. Two of the sites linked in that post are parked pages (either went defunct or never even launched).

  • Lazy Tweet (this is close, but I don’t think it should need to be explicit)
  • Twitter Answers (powered by Mosio) (seems to be a Twitter piece tacked on to a more generic mobile question answer site. Interesting.
  • Vark (mentioned by @safesolvent on Twitter – yes, Vark is very cool and wow, acquired by Google (available now in Google Labs). As I understand it (but I haven’t actually used the site), you ask questions on Vark’s site rather than Twitter, but you can probably tweet your question / answer. Still not quite what I am talking about, which is completely Twitter-based and does not require you mention or go to another site to be a part of it)
  • ThinkTank – open source answers platform from Gina Tripani of LifeHacker. Seems interesting, but is way more than what I am looking for. It does a lot of Twitter analytics on you / your friends, it appears. Still, a neat project.
  • InboxQ – Q&A for Twitter with focus on brands, allows tweeting from Chrome extension (Techcrunch article) (added 2/17/2011)
  • Replyz – “Collects and amplifies questions from around the web, allowing a wider audience to answer them.” (added 2/17/2011)
  • Tweettion – Completely Twitter-based Q&A site (added 5/14/2011)

Btw, I’m really embarrassed (on the inside) about how long it’s taken me to write/post this. I gave this idea to Ben Hamill (since he wrote, I thought he might be interested in building it) about 6 months ago. I’m trying to be better about posting ideas more regularly.