[Edit… sadly Google Moderator was cancelled – if you have a similar, simple stand-alone alternative to this, I’m very interested.]
Google Moderator was launched yesterday as a free service created internally by Taliver Heath that gives users ability to solicit lists of questions and let people vote on their relevance to what the crowd wants to know. The voting system is pretty simple… it uses voting buttons, Digg-style, and the organizer can decide if the questions and voting can be done anonymously.
This crowdsourcing approach has promise and it will become clear where as the weeks and months pass. But with such a simplified and accessible tool like this available for free, we may see organizations begin to use it for casual meeting organization, conferences, and who-knows-what.
So keep all of that in mind as you read my ideas for how to use Google Moderator in your business:
- Organizing meeting agendas or committee meetings
Why ramble about things nobody cares about? Let meeting attendees post their questions before the meeting and then rate their importance so the meeting agenda can be adjusted and made more efficient. But will those who are worse about babbling on take the time to use the tool or is it more about alpha personalities? I love the idea of walking into a meeting and knowing that the questions that were most important to the participants will be up first. There is no hiding from the reality of a vote like this.
- Organizing conference sessions (duh!) or saving your ass in a presentation.
Very similar to meetings, but for groups of people who may want to decide IF they want to attend a given session. By reviewing the session voting before choosing to attend, they can get a sense of the crowd and how the session might go. Conferences such as SXSW have been doing panel voting for a while, so this idea is well proven. If you find your presentation/agenda is going downhill, crowdsourcing “day 2” etc. might save the day.
- Organizing FAQs for a company, product, or service.
Frequently asked questions about your company should truly answer questions people care about. Most FAQs are too well crafted and sound inauthentic, so Google Moderator may be a way to obtain a well sorted list to then transfer to your website later. I think the organization may want to post the ‘seed’ questions first, and let consumers add new ones in their own voice. The same can be said for creating relevant FAQs over time for products or services. The question remains if Google will put together an API that lets us embed such features into websites directly and avoiding opening a new tab, etc.
- Deciding on product features/offerings, fleshing out concepts
If you are considering starting up a business or creating a product, you can create a list of suggested questions and put them to the vote. “What’s more important to you…” or “When do you find yourself considering…” might be some great starter questions. While I believe one can do this with pay-per-click or other methods, this adds a new dimension to the equation. While this method has its problems, there may be something to the methodology.
- Designing interviews or research projects
If you have a plan to interview someone, you can pose a few suggested questions to your readership before the scheduled interview. You can then be relatively sure that you’ll hit the points that people care about while structuring the interview well. This has been done in other places before, but Google Moderator makes it pretty damn easy. If you have limited time or funds, you can use this tool to determine the questions you should answer in your outcomes (especially when you’re publicly funded or your audience reaction has a big influence on your work.)
- Creation of how-to articles, email newsletters or videos.
If you’ve put out a new product or service, you may not be sure which technical support or customer support questions are most important. We, as technologists often overlook the questions most important to the average user. We might think that getting the USB 2.0 interface at maximum speed matters, while the consumers just want to know where the switch is to turn off the damn sound.
- Live Q&A for webcasts or other “distance learning” scenarios
Google Moderator seems pretty fast, so if you’re interested in doing live Q&A for a webcast or possibly an online presentation, you can use it to gather and field questions DURING the session. The pace means very few votes will be cast for each question. I guess it remains to be seen if this will work well versus something simple like Twitter for voting. One must be careful that voting does not distract too much from the presentation as well.
- Bonus Idea 1: Deciding on Email Newsletter Topics
If you’re thinking of sending out a newsletter or other marketing communications to thousands of people, it might pay to let people show you what they care about before sending it, thus reducing opt-out rates and improving retention. Just make sure the target audience matches the ones who are voting.
Concerns and Other Thoughts
But how many participants and votes must you have before it is useful? Is it risky to use the tool with a
group of, say 50 people? 20? I have often wondered why systems such as LinkedIN and Yahoo Answers never allowed people to vote on questions (it would be a great idea to get rid of the riff-raff) but they must have their reasons. Tools like Amazon’s askville have voting on questions now.
Crowd photo by James Cridland