In various contexts, websites try to boost activity in user-driven question-and-answer sections by actively inviting users to participate. Stack Exchange does something like that with the statement
Know someone who can answer? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.
Amazon, on its Q&A section, sends out mails to at least some previous buyers of the same product, asking for whether they have an answer, with a mail that reads something like this:
As someone who owns , can you help this fellow customer?
Unfortunately, the latter seems to attract answers whose writers know do not answer the question. Typical examples include:
- I don't know.
- I am not sure which product you are referring to.
- I believe it will, but I do not have this product.
- I have a different product, and it works there, so maybe it works for yours, too.
- Sorry, I can't answer this.
- I have researched online because I do not have this product, and it seems it is possible.
Obviously, these answers are not very useful. At best, they are not any better than what a random person could have told you (irrespective of whether or not they own the product the Q&A section belongs to). The primary problem appears to be that users feel compelled to answer even if they do not have an answer.
How can a system reliably encourage users to participate, but only exactly those users who actually have something to contribute to the particular problem at hand?
Answers I could imagine point out specific ways to phrase the invitation mail (that makes clear that if the user doesn't have an answer, they can just ignore the message), or maybe a more promising system (or user pre-selection) altogether.