ask me anything, answer me anything – the dilemma

I’ve made a minor addition to my blog. On the right, right under the search box, you’ll find a widget. If you’re not familiar with it, formspring is an application that allows users to send, receive and respond to questions. The default header on the question box is “Ask me anything.” and questions may be authored or asked anonymously (account holders do have the option to disallow anonymous questions).

I signed up for approximately 5 months ago. In that time I have received nearly 40 questions. I have answered 10, and each time I scan my inbox, I am faced with the dilemma: Do I want to commit to answering every question that is asked of me? Why wouldn’t I want to answer every question, you ask? Well, take a look at 10 questions sitting quietly in my inbox, waiting for me to answer them.

The questions are overwhelmingly personal. In fact, the only ones I would not consider personal are ten favorite records, five minutes of fame, and consider yourself friendly. The having children question, though highly personal, is one that I’m happy to answer. But many of the others are just, well… odd. They are not they type of questions I was expecting, and some leave me slightly uncomfortable. For example:

Is it weird that you missed me? Maybe not if I no-showed on an event you were expecting me to attend, or if  we’re friends but haven’t spoken in awhile. But maybe so if it was a romantic notion, since I haven’t been connected to anyone in that manner for quite some time. Is the question weird? Ummm…kinda. Is the question inappropriate? That depends not only on who is asking (which I don’t know), but also on my intentions for using formspring.

I am a compulsive joiner, often signing up for online applications purely to see what all the fuss is about. I also tend to be very open in both online and offline conversations, frequently talking about subjects and happenings that are not related to my professional career. Thus, in the absence of a stated purpose for using formspring, it would be safe to assume that the purpose is not (or not limited to) professional application (assuming, of course, we ignore for just a minute that part of my job as a social media strategist is to know about things like formspring).

Which questions are appropriate, and which are just plain questionable?

I have no doubt that the more questionable questions are enabled by anonymity, because with anonymity comes freedom. An asker may pose whatever question they choose without fear that they or their intentions will be revealed. They may ask questions that are highly personal not only to me, but also to themselves. I, however, can not answer anonymously, which means I must determine if I want to respond to every question I am asked and how open I want to be in my responses.

Consider that some answers open the door to further questions. The two crush question you see in photo above were submitted only after I answered Who is your secret crush? Consider also that anonymous questions may prompt guarded responses. To a known asker, I might have answered the good looking question with flirtatious banter or sarcastic humor if I knew either to be relevant to my relationship with that individual, but to an anonymous asker, I will likely answer with a relatively unrevealing statement on confidence in one’s appearance answered with a quip about beauty versus brains.

My question(s) to you, particularly to other users:

  1. What is your purpose for using
  2. How will you approach questions that don’t align with that purpose (too personal, off-topic, etc.)?
  3. How do you approach questions asked anonymously?
  4. Would you commit to answering every question that was asked of you?

  1. #1 by G-Rod on May 21, 2010 - 9:54 am

    For whatever reason, “Ask me anything.” implies (to me) to that you’re open to answering “anything” (ESPECIALLY) personal questions. Don’t know why. Maybe childhood games of truth or dare are somehow initiated. Maybe it would be kept on a more professional level if it where “Ask a question”. For the record, none of those ?’s are from me. ;o)

  2. #2 by G-Rod on May 21, 2010 - 9:56 am

    Damn…2nd to last sentence should have read, “Maybe it would be kept on a more PROFESSIONAL level…”

  3. #3 by patrick on May 21, 2010 - 11:06 am

    First I will answer the questions you posed.

    1. What is your purpose for using
    I was hoping that formspring would mostly be a way for people to get to know me. I have asked a few questions of people myself, most openly, but a handful anonymously. I try not to ask out of place or untoward questions, but I can’t claim to be successful in this endeavor.

    2. How will you approach questions that don’t align with that purpose (too personal, off-topic, etc.)?
    I full intend to answer all questions poised to me, but having said that at the moment I have no professional consequences having anyone see the questions or answers.

    3. How do you approach questions asked anonymously?
    Most questions I have received have been anonymous and I just answered them. For the most part I haven’t received any crazy questions, but there was that one.

    4. Would you commit to answering every question that was asked of you?
    Yes I have committed to answering all questions as truthfully as I can, that may not always be the case in the future,but I will always try.

    Now onto the rest, I will say that there are some questions that are mine in the list you have above, 3 actually. One innocent, one motivated by your secret crush question (Just out of curiosity, but in retrospect non of my business or anyone elses.), and the last of mine, while innocent in my mind and meant jokingly, has caused a stir.

    The question that caused you to be uncomfortable I am claiming as mine and I do regret it. The question was asked exactly as you first pondered “Maybe not if I no-showed on an event you were expecting me to attend”. I could have easily sent you a public @ on Twitter or not asked it anonymously, or just thought it out better and not been an idiot. I do weird things sometimes and don’t realize it till later. I apologize whole heartedly for my transgression, and wanted to try an ease your mind. I could now ramble on and on and say more stupid stuff, so I will just stop now by saying, yes it was weird and no I shouldn’t have asked it.
    Hope you have a great day.

  4. #4 by Ms. Herr on May 21, 2010 - 11:45 am

    Patrick, I don’t want you to regret asking any question. I appreciate your honesty in pointing out those questions you have asked, although I’m content to let anonymous questions remain so. If I weren’t, I would require users to enter include their user information. 🙂

    As for the question that caused a stir, it’s natural to look forward to seeing friends at events, and then be disappointed and “miss them” when either one of you miss the event. It’s also interesting though, if you had signed that question, but left out the “at [event]”, then it might have felt as weird because it’s proximity to crush, good looking, and look for in a guy questions, all of which color the perceived intention of all other questions.

  5. #5 by patrick on May 21, 2010 - 12:18 pm

    I had no intention. Still don’t.

  6. #6 by Steven Haddox on May 28, 2010 - 12:43 pm

    1. What is your purpose for using
    I have setup a account, but haven’t really used it or integrated with my blog (lack of time). My purpose was to see what kinds of questions people would ask (if they even use it once I integrate it). Mostly curiosity to see what my followers/friends/people I hardly know would do given a chance at anonymity. I’ve always believed that what you do when you’re by yourself is who you _truly_ are and it was kind of to see what happened as an experiment off of that.

    2. How will you approach questions that don’t align with that purpose (too personal, off-topic, etc.)?
    I find the best way to handle these things from other people I’ve seen who’ve had the same problem is to give a generic, “This question isn’t really what I had in mind and is too personal to answer.” If you answer enough of them that way most people stop wasting time with the crappy questions because they know you won’t bother replying to it in a way they want you to.

    3. How do you approach questions asked anonymously?
    I make sure to keep a big wall between questions from anonymous users and any emotions or opinions I may have. For all I know it’s my ex-wife trying to make people think poorly of me, etc. Don’t take anything someone isn’t willing to ask publicly as being worth much weight / influence in your life, opinions, or even your answers 😉

    4. Would you commit to answering every question that was asked of you?
    Not a chance. I’ve tried to blog even just once a week this year and so far I’ve blogged twice I think (fail). Life is just _too_ busy and hectic for me to commit to anything that isn’t really important (family, close friends, job, etc). would purely be for fun in what little spare time I have. Kind of like when I get into long twitter discussions with friends or browse It’s not something I do every minute of every day, but I’ll do it if I have some downtime and don’t feel like being productive right then.

(will not be published)