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Yahoo! Answers and StackExchange are two well-known examples of Q&A sites. Both sites allow users to ask questions, vote, and choose the best answer. Both sites have a point system to encourage their users to give useful answers. Yet they are at the opposite ends of the quality spectrum.

I often wondered if the UI may play a role in the type of content a site attracts. Maybe certain layouts or UI features are subconsciously more appealing to, and hence attract more of, the technically-inclined subset of internet users, which might in turn lead to more high-quality content. Maybe other aspects in the UI design play a role, too.

Is there anything (on the UI side of things) that can encourage quality content?

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The UI isn't the main reason what makes difference in quality content. The reason is the difference in concepts behind the question and answer platforms.

While Yahoo! Answers accepts questions on a wide range of topics, each of the StackExchange's sites focuses on some quite narrow domain.
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Domain restricts the questions and requires more skilled participants. And experts know, that in a good answer there should be not only statement, but logic reasoning, (scientific) proofs, explanations, and references as well. Probably, because they have a lot of questions themselves and are able to distinguish bad and good answers on their questions.

So the difference in quality is the consequence of the concept behind the platform, not the UI. The UI of the platforms are different, but again, UI supports the concept. StackExchange UI supports (but not guarantees) giving the quality answers by expert with:

  • large and expandible text area vs small text area on YA
  • rich formatting tools vs plain text on YA
  • focusing on an answer (clear interface, no distracting elements, etc.) vs third-party elements on YA (mail, links, images).

So UI is just a tool and just supports quality, but not provides or guarantees it. You could see a lot of real word examples of this statement.

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I think in large, the community you attract and the control you keep over the content dictates the general quality more than the actual UI (but it can compliment it).

I agree with @Alexy Kolchenko in that Yahoo! Answers is a very broad category that will attract a wide audience where as a site like UX Stack Exchange is going to attract a more specific group of people.

On StackExchange you will see a lot of content edited or moderated, this plays a large part in the quality of the content, as well as other features you mentioned like the scoring system, voting system and post review.

But where you have a large audience or user base and you give users control over the content you will always attract spammers and low quality. All you can do is to try design your site in a way that would deter or minimise this (things like great content, scoring systems, user / content rating and moderators).

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