Before I started The Pet Wiki, I worked for 10 years at Answers.com. They are the people who run WikiAnswers. If there is one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there is no better way to engage users than allowing them to ask and answer questions. We’ve just released our Q&A, and I have really high hopes for it.
The Pet Wiki is a MediaWiki website. For the core information, it will always be a MediaWiki website, but instead of twisting MediaWiki to our will and make it support a Q&A platform, we decided to install Question2Answer to the site. It’s a Q&A platform that is based on the Yahoo!Answers model. It allows people to ask, answer and vote on their favorite questions and answers. It works great and we are really happy with it.
The people at Question2Answer are pretty bright. They realize that their version of Q&A might be added to other sites that already have logins, and have made it really easy for there to be one login for both the main site and the subsite. It was very important to me that the user didn’t feel like they were on another site when going from the MediaWiki part of the site to the Q&A. One login is extremely important for that. The people at MediaWiki are also pretty keen and they’ve developed an extension to use the one login. That’s right, MediaWiki and Question2Answer play very nicely together.
Having the same look and feel is critical. We just did a major redesign of The Pet Wiki and making the Q&A have the same look and feel was pretty painless. We just plugged in the Q&A into the page of The Pet Wiki skin, and it looks great. There are a few things that we played with, like the colors and size of fonts and stuff like that, but we handled all that with a few css modifications.
Another thing that was very important to me is that there be one search box that brought answers from both sites. We aren’t using the default search that comes with MediaWiki for the main site. Instead we are using Sphinx as our search engine. (There’s also a MediaWiki extension for Sphinx.) We hooked it up to our Q&A site too. The results are not combined, but they show on the same page. If we don’t have the page (on either site) that the user is looking for, we give them the option to create an article or ask a question, which directs them to the correct site.
The last thing that we made sure to take care of is that we put all the Q&A stuff into our Social Profile user pages. That way all the user board stuff is in one place. It’s really nice to be able to see the Q&A stats and Social profile stuff in one place. The stuff we did here is much less standard. Question2Answer has their own user profile, so this took some modifications, including modifying the links to user pages so that they go to the wiki pages, but it was worth is.
In the end, we have one site, with two installations of very powerful content management systems that work together beautifully.