Finding Experts On-Line

Dec 3, 2013

Credit Jim Stoup

These days, there’s no shortage of information available on the Internet. Everybody and anybody can offer an opinion.

But how do you determine what’s valuable and what isn’t?


For an increasing number of people, the ‘go to’ site for online info is Wikipedia, a huge compilation of information where content is maintained by users.  While many Internet sites have no controls for the accuracy of user posts, Wikipedia does. But it recently did a study of the quality of the information on its site and found 99.9 percent does not meet its own standards.

According Virginia Tech’s Alan Wang, determining the quality of online information is the next Internet frontier.  It’s being called ‘web 2.0’

“So Internet 2.0 is just not a platform for info exchange. Rather it’s a very complex mechanism now where people can share knowledge.”

Wang says the difference between knowledge and wisdom lies in knowing how to interpret the mass of information out there. That’s where the experts come in. Wang is associate professor of business information technology at Virginia Tech.  He led a team that created a way to identify experts online called “ExpertRank.”  Rankings are based on people’s history of posting and something more elusive, their ‘social status’ in their field.

"To measure the social importance of a user in an online we consider that a user has a higher level expertise if this user has helped others. “

Just like in the analog world, someone who has helped or taught others has a higher status and is more highly sought after to teach others.  An algorithm similar to what search engines use for page ranking identifies these people from the vast webosphere of information.

Wang says that unlike other expert finding systems, the helpers don’t have to do anything to participate.  No need to sign up or provide information.  One bar to entry removed. But what guarantee is there that an expert you find through “ExpertRank” will respond to you? Wang points to research which suggests that true experts often want to help, to get their perspective out there and perhaps to increase their own status in their field. 

But while there is no guarantee that one of these experts will in fact, get back to you, Wang says, at least you ‘ll have a way to contact them and make your best pitch.