Q: Are Local Q&A Services the Next Big Thang?

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:

asakalo.com home page

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.

Picture 16

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.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Scott @ Crowdbeacon

    Thanks for the mention Andrew!

    We started Crowdbeacon because we feel like there is a lot of opportunity in this space, and are really happy that our thesis – that localized communication and information can be helpful – has proven true SO FAR. That said, we launched very aware of the “chicken and the egg” problem that so many people before us faced of getting initial users that can respond to queries locally… but as you mentioned this “problem” is what forced us to incorporate other APIS (thank you Yelp, Foursquare and Wishpond), so we’re really happy to have had that problem come across our desks!

    Anyway, would love to talk to you in more detail if you’re interested. If not, keep up the good fight…

  2. Tiggerito

    The concept looks great.

    Are there any services outside the USA yet? I’m in Australia and you see a lot of this stuff take years before reaching here 🙁

  3. Jesse

    Tiggerito askalo is available in Australia. You can discover and share new experiences in Australia now at http://www.askalo.com.au/ !!!

    Great article Andrew. You have provided an interesting look at the evolution of Q&A websites and have identified what has the potential to be “the next big thang” in the Q&A world, localized Q&A! Thank you for bringing more attention to local Q&A and for sharing askalo with your readership! I invite you to answer some questions in San Francisco so you can earn some of those awesome badges and points you mentioned!

  4. Cory Grassell

    While I have been skeptical of social Q&A services, or recommendation engines, the idea of using other services as “backfill” may sway my opinion. That raises the chances of a user getting a response, rather than proposing a question and getting nothing in return. User experience increases, satisfaction soars and more are enticed to use.

  5. Andrew Shotland

    Scott & Jesse, keep up the good work. Feel free to get in touch with me via my blog at http://www.localseoguide.com/contact

  6. Scott @ Crowdbeacon

    @ Triggerito-

    Unfortunately we’re not in Australia yet. 🙁

  7. Vintage Shoes

    This is great. I’m currently researching all the popular Q&A platforms for a new project at a major company (wish I could say who). This research is going to make it much easier. Thanks!

  8. Vikrant Ramteke

    Finderous (http://www.findero.us) is one such multilevel Q&A website, that allows users to post questions at city/county/state/country level depending upon the type of question. It has gone one step ahead and gave a new meaning to the location based Q&A apps.

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