Experts Exchange: a great way to make money on the Web

For Experts Exchange that is, not for you. Experts Exchange is a question and answer site which most people who use Google have come across, because it often features high in the rankings when you search for troubleshooting information about some strange Windows error or the like. This can be frustrating, because the solutions are behind a paywall. The paywall is partial, since sometimes if you scroll down … and down … and down, you find the solution at the bottom of the page, after a ton of useless category listings. However, this isn’t always the case; either some solutions are protected, or the site detects frequent visits and turns off the solutions after a while. I think it is the latter. This can be frustrating, since there is good information in many of the solutions. You also have to pay if you want to ask questions beyond a very limited allowance each month.

The great thing from the point of view of the site owners is that they don’t pay a penny for the expertise they sell, other than for moderation and hosting. If you sign up as an Expert, you can post solutions, though you still can’t see all the other solutions until you acquire a certain number of points. Points are awarded for accepted solutions, and solutions are accepted if the questioner marks them so. If the questioner doesn’t bother (not uncommon) then eventually a moderator turns up and decides which answers merit points. If an expert gets lots of points, the reward is an Experts Exchange certification for the subject area in which the points were won.

I tried being an Expert recently and it is quite fun if you are interested in the kinds of technical problems people want to solve and/or get any satisfaction from helping them. It is also quite annoying. Questions vary from trivial to impossible; with the trivial ones, it is a race against time as numerous Experts try to post their solution first. Some are impossible because they are hopelessly vague (so common with support issues), have no clear answer – eg “should I pay for help with SEO” – or because what the questioner wants simply cannot be done.

It is also interesting to see what questions are being asked. There is a heavy bias towards Windows. I guess this is another reminder of Microsoft’s continuing dominance, though it also reflects the culture of the community that has formed around the site. Many of the programming questions seem to be from beginners, though often wrestling with real business applications, raising questions about the level of IT expertise out there.

It might be worth answering a few simple questions to get 10,000 points, or 3,000 per month thereafter, as this qualifies Experts to get free use of the site. What about spending hours trying to fix a tricky and intricate problem with Active Directory, without access to the system you are trying to troubleshoot? That doesn’t make sense for most of us, since if you can do that you can probably do it for real money elsewhere. These are questions that might not get answered at all, though sometimes they are, leaving valuable information for others in the process.

That said, it strikes me that the Experts here could get a better deal. Why not set up a cooperative where they share the subscription fees? The problem is how to acquire the necessary momentum and build up a strong repository of solutions that show up in Google and bring users to the site.

As for developers, I’d prefer StackOverflow, which is unequivocally free; the organizers presumably get by on advertising income.

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3 thoughts on “Experts Exchange: a great way to make money on the Web”

  1. I’m always amused (bemused?) that my blog has many links from “Experts Exchange” – yet I cannot see how they are using MY content to supply answers for their readers.

    Blake Handler – Microsoft MVP
    “The Road to Know Where”

  2. I’m an expert at EE, and it’s true that they don’t outright pay us for our answers. On occasion, I do enjoy answering questions and generally helping out, but I also really enjoy having the ability (as an expert that gets the free membership from answering 2 questions a month) to ask questions myself. I usually stick to my category of expertise, but I’m always coming across problems in my development, and it’s great to have a place to post a question and have other people RACING to get me an answer.

    It’s well worth the time that I invest into answering questions, since it can save me lots of time in the long run. Of course, that’s just me.

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