It’s interesting to see the rise of Q&A websites such as Quora and Stack Overflow through the lens of the defunct Ask Jeeves search engine. Despite how terrible the search functions of Ask Jeeves was, it was a step ahead of the competition by allowing users to search through questions. From popular search results on Google, it is easy to conclude that users feel much more natural asking a question instead of providing the right key words for a search.
Although I’m not terribly active on either Quora or Stack Overflow, I am consistently impressed with the quality of knowledge that can be found on both. While online forums are usually overrun with trolls, the voting mechanism and reputation aspects of both sites help maintain their overall qualities without much need for formal moderators.
Ask.com is now both a search engine (like Google) and a Q&A community (like Yahoo! Answers). However, its Alexa rank of 47 is well below either of its competitors (Google ranks #1, Yahoo! ranks #4). Perhaps Ask Jeeves is an example of a company that failed despited some successes; it was at once ahead of its time and behind the competition.
Edit: A friend of mine pointed out that comparing Quora and Stack Overflow to a website like AskJeeves is not a proper comp, as AskJeeves was just a regular search engine without any natural language processing capabilities. I definitely agree with him on this point. What I had hoped to highlight in the original post was the design aspect of AskJeeves that moved search into a natural language paradigm. Early search engines are all about keywords, as anybody who has dealt with an academic database will tell you. And even earlier, the only way to speak to machines was not at all intuitive. Q&A is just one of many areas of technology that are moving towards to more natural way of communicating with the devices in our lives.