Saturday, December 30, 2006

Question and answer sites

Which is the best Q&A site? That‘s obviously up for interpretation, but there have been several posts on this of late. This is my favorite- I‘m a sucker for real data: Yahoo! Answers Captures 96% of Q and A Market Share.

Search Engine Land had an interesting post about question and answer sites today that linked to a thorough review from MIT Technology Review of six of these sites. Yahoo! Answers was the clear winner, which is can partly be attributed to its sheer volume of users. I created a custom category of the six sites mentioned in the post, and found that for the week ending 12/23/06, the market share of visits to Yahoo! Answers was 47X greater than the share of visits to its nearest competitor, Answerbag. Two of its competitors, Askville and Yedda, were in the gray, meaning we don't have statistically significant data on them. This is the network effect in action, and the Technology Review article demonstrates it - the reviewer found more and better answers to his questions on because of the volume of users on the site.

I have a preference for any post which mentions the network effect. It's the network effect which makes MediaWiki such an important software platform, and why will be difficult to unseat as the social bookmarking tool of choice. So, the bottom-line is that Yahoo! Answers has this space sewed-up unless they do something stupid and try to tweak the social dynamics. Google saw the handwriting on the wall and sent Google Answers to an early grave. Smart!:

We‘re sorry, but Google Answers has been retired, and is no longer accepting new questions.
Search or browse the existing Google Answers index by using the search box above or the category links below.

There was no way the Google model could compete with what you see happening with Yahoo. I can also tell you that Askville is headed to an early death as well. The question is how long will Amazon stick with this before they realize it's going nowhere? NowNow might have a chance, but they are no longer accepting accounts so I can‘t get the inside view (come on Amazon- let me in!)

Here‘s my free advice for today, before you try one of these expensive experiments you need to read Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. This is where Brady Forrest has got it wrong when he says that Amazon's strategy of paying people to ask and answer questions is "cheap when compared to normal customer acquisition costs". Mechanical Turk is a Community Substitute:

Another example of this is Amazon‘s NowNow. It‘s a Q&A site that relies on Turkers to answer questions. It‘s currently free, but they may charge in time. It‘s being launched at the same time as Amazon‘s AskVille, a Q&A site that relies on humans to answer questions (see the Radar post on both of them). I have no extra insight into Amazon‘s plans for these two sites, but I think that they are being set-up as comparisons to see which is more effective at answering questions and presumably making money.

Will other sites begin to do this? If you‘re a small startup that relies on community this seems like a great way to get things rolling for your site. You just need to keep your MTurk usage out in the open. Amazon calls it out quite explicitly and makes it clear that MTurk is involved (see the FAQ). I‘ll bet it will help you attract even more people (until everyone is doing it).

Hmmm, I don‘t think so. You can‘t buy community.

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