Did you ever try ChaCha on a roadtrip? Get googled deep into the unreliable wild wild west of Yahoo Answers? Actually Ask Jeeves? Then you know the first generation of Q&A services was a little slow off the blocks.
That's starting the change. A number of hot new tools and big name investment is redefining search as a kind of social information discovery.
The leader in the field at the moment seems to be Quora, the brainchild of a former Facebook CTO. They launched in private beta early this year to the delight of the early adopter crowd. The site itself features an intuitive interface, Facebook Connect ease of use, and of course - a growing database of Qs&As created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. Quora has been such a hit with the technorati that web celebrities have even been spied answering questions about themselves. The Facebook founders, for example, talked about the Facebook movie there.
Is a buzzy little startup enough to start a trend? Twitter would probably say so, but Ask and Answer is more than just one service.
Facebook Questions entered the space last month. The interface and functionality is amazingly similar, but Facebook does have the advantage of a captive audience while Quora is working to build its reputation beyond the early adopters.
The really interesting alternative out there is Aadvark. Instead of crowdsourcing answers, it mines them through friends of friends - looking for people in your social network who have talked about similar topics or queries. That adds a level of social relevance that's incredibly compelling if you have a network big enough to support it.