Question 42 of 365: How can you frame a question so that it actually gets answered?

Participation matters. Above all else, if you expect people to come to your blog, read your feed, follow your buzz or engage in your web application; you must look for a level of participation that really doesn’t have a whole lot of modeling in the real world. The blogosphere had to institute a delurking day so that people would start commenting on blogs and letting us know that they existed. Even worse, it is almost inconceivable when starting up a new wiki that you will be able to break free from the 90-10 problem (10 percent of the people provide the content, 90 percent consume it).

So, as I have ventured into the realm of asking questions, one of my biggest concerns is that of participation. How is it that I can frame a question as to evoke the power of participation within my audience, and how can others do the same of their audiences?

It is my contention that there are three reasons that people listen to an answer and/or want to engage in a conversation about answering a question:

  1. Someone you know and trust directly asks you to answer the question. This is why evites are so popular and widely used. People you believe add value to your life are asking you the simple question of: Will you come to my party? If you feel any kind of lasting connection to this person, you will respond. It is the same way for bigger questions. If someone you love pulls you aside and asks you for advice on what their next career move should be (even if this aside is in an e-mail), you will most likely participate and answer that question. It is the personal connection that solidifies participation.
  2. An expert engages you with an intriguing and provocative solution. While you may not know this person directly, their status and experience in working with the question you have proposed propels you into engaging in the conversation. If Will Richardson comments on my blog or links to me on his blog, I am much more likely (as are other people who read this blog) to comment and engage in the conversation. His status as an expert in classroom blogging and learning networks means that people listen to what he has to say. They engage because he has engaged.
  3. Data is also compelling. The data about a solution can sometimes be much more engaging than even the solution itself. When people see that there is a great groundswell behind a single idea, they are much more likely to engage, even if it is only a few data points to suggest that the groundswell exists. It is the mere suggestion of data that gets people ready for a debate. They are just as likely to agree with a statistic as they are to dispute it. They fuel fires and vote in polls. This is one of the easiest ways to find engagement. There is very little that people have to do in order to weigh in when you have it boiled down to a good or bad type of equation. They just have to push buttons, and if that get’s them to engage further, I am all for it.

So, I guess that what I am trying to accomplish with these questions and answers has a lot to do with trying to find a way to incorporate all three into my frames. What I would really like, though, would be for all questions that get asked to be framed by those who ask them. I would really like to see a single video companion to every question that exists explaining who the asker is and why their question is important. This would allow people to start investing themselves in the question and get a personal relationship with the asker. Framing the question would also be a way to ask for experts to come in, almost a challenge for an expert to help answer the question too. As for the data, I think that everyone should be able to see the merits of the frame and rate what they thinks makes sense to pursue. In effect, each answer becomes a new data point that will cause others to engage.

My hope is that by framing the question correctly, participation will be the rule and not the exception.

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