Q&A sites like Answers.com, Yahoo Answers and ChaCha have been around for a while. They generate huge amounts of traffic because they create millions of pages that target common (and not-so-common) search queries like “how tall is justin beiber?” And with Quora getting a bit of tech buzz and Demand Media (Ehow) going public, the category has been in the spotlight as of late. Of course, a lot of this content is not easily monetized so RPMs on Q&A sites are relatively low. But when you add location to the query, the value of the page goes up considerably because we know much more about the reader’s intent (OK, maybe not for Justin Bieber questions).
The genesis of local review sites (Yelp, Insider Pages, etc.) was an attempt to get community-generated answers to local questions such as “what’s the best restaurant in Pleasanton?” But most of the answers were to be found be digging through reviews of various businesses rather than on a page that asked the specific question. Yelp Talk was an early attempt to create an alternative source of local info and it has proved to be an active part of the site. There have been plenty of services that have launched since that touch on local Q&A, but after reviewing two local Q&A start-ups I am starting to think that 2011 is going be a bit of renaissance in this area.
Launched in July 2010, Askalo is a global/local directory of questions displayed in a Twitter-like fashion:
It’s a pretty simple design and has a number of the community features that are de rigueur these days (friending, badges, avatars, etc.). While there seemed to be an OK number of questions asked in the cities I checked out, there still seem to be relatively few people answering questions. The company is based in Germany so I imagine there is more activity in Berlin.
The “ghost town” effect is one of the big obstacles to launching community features like this. If there is no community present at the start, the service starts to feel a bit lonely. In my opinion, jump-starting the community was one of Yelp’s biggest innovations. I recall in the early days of Yelp I asked a question about where to buy an engagement ring. Within a minute or two I received an answer from someone with an attractive profile photo. We had a brief interaction and she started encouraging me to post reviews in order to join the “Yelp Elite” with the promise of getting invited to one of their off-the-hook parties. Their seeding of the social interactions created the illusion that there was actually something going on over there and it made you want to participate. By going local on a global basis, Askalo may be boiling the ocean.
Perhaps even more intriguing is CrowdBeacon, a social mobile app that attempts to get you answers to local questions from local experts, business owners and users of other location-based services like Foursquare and Yelp.
This kind of takes the concept of the MerchantCircle Mayor mobile. Instead of just relying on everyday users to answer questions, CrowdBeacon solves the ghost town problem by using the other services as backfill. This ensures that there will be answers available for a decent percentage of queries. And since business owners will have a financial incentive to answer questions, this could be another great source of content. Of course, getting business owners to do anything is a whole other story.
Q: Why, despite the drum roll of “community” that has been going on since the last decade, have most of the big players in local done very little in the area?
A: With the huge opportunity to engage consumers and to drive leads to advertisers, expect more local Q&A sites to start popping up.