Seattle's Questionland builds Q&A community around popular alt.weekly The Stranger

Yahoo Answers can be a helpful resource, but its questions and answers are by definition generalized to the entire Internet. Localized Q&A can focus questions and answers on geographic areas, specific industries, or in the case of Seattle’s Questionland, on the readership of local alternative weekly newspaper The Stranger. The site is built using technology licensed from YouSaidIt, which calls itself “social Q&A.”

How localized and personalized is Questionland? Instead of relying on Amazon.com for book recommendations, Questionland users can get personal recommendations from The Stranger’s Paul Constant, who’ll tell you what to read next based on your past few books.

Founded in 1991 by The Onion co-founder Tim Keck, The Stranger has a readership that practically speaks a different language than Seattle’s mainstream newspapers, the Seattle Times and the online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Typical headline: “How Fucked Is American Theater?”

Keck says Questionland has enabled The Stranger to, in some ways, bring its readers onboard as contributors. “It’s different from throwing a question out into the whole wide world,” he told me in a phone interview. “You run into these people on the street, and they know each other.”

Questionland grew out of an earlier experiment called Electionland, in which The Stranger convinced local political candidates to take questions directly from readers rather than reporters. “It took us editorially out of the picture,” he said. “Our readers go to have a debate with the politicians. The politicians liked it because they didn’t have to deal with one of our snotty reporters.”

A typical Questionland question might be: “My parents are coming to town. Where do I take them?” So much cultural shorthand there. Keck says Questionland beats broader message boards for this sort of localized, demographic-specific issue: “You can search a community’s mind, rather than googling the Internet.”

Custom-tailored Q&A sites seem to be growing in popularity. YouSaidIt claims a few dozen sites have been built with its technology. Rival Qhub claims to power more than 1,000 forums.

YouSaidIt co-founder Charles Borwick told me, “YouSaidIt is a place where the community can interact directly with validated experts and VIPs e.g. political candidates, book editors, chefs.” Seattle mayor Mike McGinn is a regular Questionland contributor.

Keck says The Stranger is now looking at ways to bring Questionland content into the newspaper. We jaded journalists can forget this, but the prospect of being quoted in The Stranger will excite and motivate many of its readers into becoming contributors.

YouSaidIt, founded in Seattle in 2007, is privately funded.

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