LinkedIn to launch answers product

LinkedIn logoIn a marketwatch story and online video interview, Keith Rabois of LinkedIn revealed that the business network is planning to launch a question/answer service similar to Yahoo! Answers, but directed at business intelligence. The service will take advantage of the identities LinkedIn users have taken time to construct, and utilize the existing social relationships as an incentive to get people to answer questions. From the interview with the head of business development:

Rabois: One of the things we’re doing is transcending the traditional value propositions of LinkedIn. Historically we’ve been focused a lot on hiring, recruiting, and finding new jobs and opportunities. We’re going to be using LinkedIn exploring new opportunities for people to conduct research, business research. One of the most important uses of a professional network is to get intelligence and get business information. For example, if one wanted to know what three changes are going to occur in patent law in the next five years, LinkedIn is a perfect tool to find that answer. Or, what venture capitalists are most appropriate for investing in a sports medical device. So we’re going to have a LinkedIn answers. You can sort of envision a useful version of Yahoo! Answers tied to people’s professional credentials and profile so you can assess the validity and credability of people’s answers.

Francisco: And how do you get the incentives? How do you provide incentives for people to actively participate in that?

Rabois: Principly social capital. It’s going to work within two degrees, and that means a friend of a friend. So if someone I know is asking a question and I know the possible answer, I’ll be willing to respond because I know the person in common. So I’ll earn some social capital as well as develop a professional set of expertise and reputational devices on our site that allow you to market yourself as an expert in a particular topic.

Answer sites have been coming out of the woodwork lately; after the overwhelming success of Naver and others in Asia, Yahoo! Answers opened a free, public question/answer site in America. Microsoft followed shortly afterward with Live Q&A and then Amazon with Askville. Each of these sites has a slightly different take on the incentives and social dynamics that make up the system, and each hoping to find the magic arrangement that creates high-quality content for its users. Of course the holy grail for these services is to achieve what Naver did, namely gaining the #1 search market share for search a year after launching their Q/A product.

LinkedIn presents an interesting player in this game, specifically because they have a substantial amount of information about their users, and because these profiles represent serious, professional concerns. Their opinion of Yahoo! Answers is obvious (“imagine a useful version of Yahoo! Answers…”), and they believe the users of LinkedIn will participate in something much more serious than the current competition. The interview does not mention when they plan to launch the system, but I would expect it to be soon if the head of BD is talking to MarketWatch.

Amazon launches answers site

Askville LogoToday I received an invite to join a new community at Amazon called Askville:

You’re Invited!

As a valued Amazon customer, you’ve been specially picked to get an early look at a new website called Askville where you can ask any question on any topic and get real answers from real people. It’s new, and best of all, it’s free!

This site will compete with Yahoo! Answers and Microsoft Q&A in the free question-answering space except that it might be able to leverage the Amazon community of experts. For those that have not been following this area, these systems enable knowledge creation by allowing users ask questions that are then answered by other users in exchange for reputation within the system. The first success in this space was a startup in Korea named Naver that took control of the search market share in a very short period of time.

Amazon’s system is similar to all of its American counterparts, with its large fonts and friendly messaging (“ask.. answer.. meet.. play”), except for a few subtle distinctions:

  • Users are rewarded for asking questions as well as answering them
  • Questions are limited to 5 answers total
  • Best answers are chosen by the group of question asker and answerers, where the asker gets one more vote than the answerers

Probably the most significant change is the flow of the question/answering exchange. In Yahoo! Answers, and elsewhere, answers are shown publicly as they are received; in Askville, answers are hidden to the public until 5 answers have been received. Any discussion or clarification can happen in a public message board attached to the question. After 5 answers have been collected, the group of asker and answerers vote and the whole thing is made public.

Askville rewards users with “coins,” a virtual currency that will be redeemable in another community named Questville slated for release in early 2007.

The system has given me 25 invitations for other accounts. If you’re interested in trying out the system, shoot me an email.

Update: I apologize, but all of my invitations have been distributed! It seems like the invitations are spreading though, so look for one on a weblog near you…