How Facebook Will Conquer Your Real World Identity

When Facebook released their S-1 announcing their intent to go public, Mark Zuckerberg left no doubt in anyone’s mind they have taken over our digital world.  According to Hitwise, Facebook now accounts for 1 in every 5 pageviews on the web (in the U.S.). It’s crazy to think Facebook wasn’t visionary in the revolutionary sense of the word, they just recognized the world needed a real directory of people, not merely another site to attract users. And indeed, they nailed it. The goal of making its social graph portable and fundamental to the fabric of the Web – and your virtual identity – has certainly been realized.

But can Facebook extend its reach outside the wired world and into your real world? Actually, I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. Maybe the better question is “HOW will Facebook extend its reach into your real world?”

It would seem they are on a tear and the facts are staggering. Hitwise found Facebook.com is now seeing one out of every eleven of their visits coming from the U.S., and 1/5 of all pageviews online in the U.S. takes place on Facebook.com. Their monthly actives grew 21% over the past four months. They are now seeing about 850 million users each month, with half accessing on their mobile device. In 2011, they earned almost $4 billion in revenue and of that, exactly $1 billion was profit. In the S-1 filing, Zuckerberg even goes to the lengths of declaring their intent to fundamentally rewire the way the world works, from interpersonal interactions to commerce to even government.

Facebook’s current revenue is driven mostly by advertising, and analysts are postulating about what exactly led Facebook to IPO.  Maybe it’s a desire to steer where advertising is going, to hopefully make it more personal and relevant for consumers.  But make no mistake, Facebook is already one of the most valuable companies on the planet because of the information they gather.   Age, gender, current city, hometown, employers, education, friends, interests, and now in-app activity and commerce habits are all reasons Facebook is worth an estimated $100 billion.

Yet advertising might not always be their bread and butter since it can only take you so far (just look at what other businesses Google is trying to create) and diversification is the name of the game if you want to protect your longterm business.

This brings us to a natural progression in the digital ecosystem – from advertising to payments. Within the S-1 they revealed their virtual Payments business is already bringing in $557 million in revenue per year. From the filing, Facebook writes that “we may seek to extend the use of Payments to other types of apps in the future.” Although not specific about these other apps, one could think they could include anything that somehow integrates with Facebook.

So it would seem Facebook is on pace to take over the world….. except one big side note, the mobile device. Analysts and the media are already pointing out Facebook has discovered their Kryptonite, which would be the fact that even though almost half of all their users are accessing Facebook from their mobile device, they are generating almost zero revenue from mobile usage.

Facebook risks being left behind as the world turns more of their attention to their mobile devices. Also found in the S-1, Facebook goes to great lengths to admit they have no current way to monetize mobile “We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products. Accordingly, if users continue to increasingly access Facebook mobile products as a substitute for access through personal computers…our revenue and financial results may be negatively affected.”

So while Facebook sees mobile as critical to its future growth, the growing number of people accessing the social network via mobile devices (again, 450 million!) could negatively impact its advertising revenue unless it is able to begin monetizing its mobile usage.

This should not be taken lightly, as anyone in the industry knows mobile is growing at a rapid pace and it’s only going to accelerate. Techcrunch cofounder and guest author Keith Teare, who is General Partner at his incubator Archimedes Labs and CEO of newly funded just.me, eloquently puts it:

The reason this risk factor jumps out of the page – for me – is that this trend to growing mobile use is inevitable. What is more, it will be both rapid and enormous. How do we know this? Well, human beings are flocking to mobile platforms in droves. This is happening to such an extent that Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker went on the record almost 1 year ago to say that we are now in the 5th major technology cycle of the past half century (mainframe; mini-computer; desktop; internet and now mobile) and that mobile traffic will “grow 26 times over the next 5 years”

Mobile is The Final Frontier to Our Real Life Identity

It has been determined the most valuable network in the digital world is all your personal connections, collected and put together to form the social graph.  Expansive and data rich, this network connects you and me in a way we never would have been able to do before Facebook hit our screens.

But offline, this is not the case since transactions are the fullest expression of commercial interaction. Offline, the most valuable network is comprised of all the loose connections of merchant/customer relationships around the world, all together representing the GDP.  Broken down to each individual, possibly named the commercial graph, one can start to see patterns and degrees of separation forming.

The mobile device is the most direct and personal connection between our digital world to our physical world. We carry them with us all the time and feel naked if we leave them at home. Their use history is a picture perfect snapshot of who we are, made complete with our media and content preferences in addition to our personal calling and messaging history. Your cell phone contact history is, quite frankly, your true and actual real world social network. The location information (what is seen and not seen by the public) draws a direct path of your everyday footsteps. Like it or not, your mobile device is the crystal ball into your existence – a pure blend of your virtual and physical self.

Yet, Facebook has not figured out how to crack that crystal ball. Yes you can access Facebook proper via your mobile device… but it is still within their digital walls. I am curious as to when Facebook’s tenticals will reach outside those walls and into our physical world. And more interestingly, if not Facebook… then who else will it be?

We Express Relationships With Businesses Via Transactions

In the physical world, the truest expression of our commercial relationship with a businesses is through transaction.  If I like a product, I don’t push a button on the shelf right by where its sitting, I buy it.  If I am attracted to a city and want to stay at a nice hotel, I book the room.  Wouldn’t it be great to directly connect with merchants we care about in our life to make those interactions and transactions much easier?  Wouldn’t it be great if it operated similar to what we have become accustomed to in out digital social worlds?  Unfortunately, we cannot indicate a preferred long term relationship with a merchant, both interactional and transactional, driven through our mobile devices (Not yet that is).

With more than 8 trillion text messages sent last year around the world, and the U.S. alone seeing more than a fourth of those messages, messaging is the most predominant use for our mobile device. Research suggests messaging is still growing and arguably this won’t change for the foreseeable future. What if texting wasn’t just meant for communication, but also designed for transaction? It has been estimated that worldwide mobile payments (m-payments) will be over US$1 trillion by 2015. That is one BIG market if I have ever seen one.  And a market any serious digital media company should be focused on.

So if mobile is only going to be more important as time goes on, if our real world identities are tied to our mobile device and if transactions are the most valuable market in the world, it would make sense the next war for supremacy lies right where those three battlefields intersect.

Anyone want to suggest what Facebook has in store in the coming years to deliver returns for their shareholders? If their goal really is to fundamentally rewire the way the world works, from interpersonal interactions to commerce to even government, they need to do more than just show us ads in our news feed.

The advantages to going public at $100 billion is everyone who was a shareholder “before” the IPO will make a nice return on their investments – both time and money. The downfall of going public valued at $100 billion is that for anyone who is a shareholder “after” the IPO is going to need to see that valuation increase drastically to achieve a positive return. How is Facebook going to do that? The multi-trillion dollar worldwide market of physical world payments is probably Facebook’s best bet at making those returns come true.

Your virtual identity is arguably still up for grabs but at this point the front runner is Facebook with almost 1 billion users worldwide. The question is who will own your real world identity?

Even more interesting is wondering if we can fight for our real world identity or will we succumb to the greatest virtual social network on earth overtaking our physical world as well?

Social Search Series Part IV: Will Quora Be More Valuable Than Google?

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search. Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies. No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks. This is part IV of the series.  For background, check out the previous articles Part I here and  part IIand Part III here.

Googling may be the most popular way we currently search for information but mark my words, it will not be the primary way you find information in the future.  The previous articles in this series describe how the web has changed, grown exponentially, become more social and ultimately more difficult for traditional search engines to index.  That means you, as a user, are usually getting the wrong end of the search stick.

This article is about what keeps Google up shivering at night – the future of search lies not in what you know, but in who you know.

The search environment is splintering and I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts.  I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  In my third article I talked about the first quadrant, Location Relevance, and what happens when you combine social, location and.  It looks as if a few associated startups, LOCQL and Localmind, are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search locally.

Quadrant: Location Agnostic

The next subcategory in social search can be referred to as Location Agnostic.  Some social search applications do not integrate location-based technologies into their functionality, but more or less originate around specific topics and expert knowledge.  Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to many users and possibly become large search companies.  Refer back to my original post for the entire list, but here I will cover two of the best positioned startups.

StackExchange

Originally designed for professional and enthusiast programmers, Stackoverflow has emerged as one of the leaders in the social search space.  The StackExchange Network encompasses an additional 57 social sites like cooking, photography, etc.  Each of these sites is uniquely focused on it’s specific topic, and is called a “StackExchange”.  Collectively they are the StackExchange Network and with nice growth numbers now see almost 15 million users each month.

Here’s how it works: After someone asks a question, members of the StackExchange community propose answers. Others vote on those answers. Very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer.

The growth of StackExchange is just another proof point aimed directly to replace swimming through the vast sea of links on the web, most of which are content farms or spam.  Simply put, these new approaches help people find better information quicker.  The unique take on mining expert knowledge for user search and discovery is quite clearly the future of search.  It is what I have been referring to over the past few articles “the future of search lies within your network of contacts“.

According to co-founder/CEO Joel Spolsky, the old question and answer model became flawed.  “I sort of feel like the first generation of Q&A sites, Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and those, ended up accidentally being used for entertainment purposes. If you look at Yahoo Answers, it’s being used as a chat for teenage girls. It’s not really being used to get answers.”

StackOverflow’s answer is to focus on experts“We only select verticals where we have a critical mass of a couple hundred experts in the domain. We’re only interested in the domains where there’s something to learn – a corpus of knowledge, there’s a canon of knowledge, and people sharing knowledge are called experts.”

So why do I believe the future of search lies in a networks like StackExchange?  When experts are willing to divulge their knowledge, a site is able to collect and organize it, and more and more people start to use and share the information – *bing* the picture starts to become clearer.

Interestingly, Spolsky might not fully agree with my vision just yet.  “Our expectation is for the most part, people like to type their questions into Google and they’re not going to go to a specific site that often.”  Maybe he just can’t imagine a world where you could start following these experts, ones who you can look upon to bring you specific knowledge in areas of personal interest? In that world you wouldn’t have to go to Google anymore.  And what if you could infuse your social contacts in a way that…

Quora

QuoraQuora, founded by former Facebook employees, aims to build THE go-to application for the world’s wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is not only can you search and vote answers up or down, you can follow well known individuals as they continue to add their knowledge to the site.  Quora is combining the best of questions, answers, social contacts and search in an effort to build out a rich knowledge platform rivaled by no one.

They are the new Silicon Valley darling, garnering much attention and valuations around $1 billion yet still remaining a fraction of the size of StackExchange. Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller tech community and it’s unknown if they can uphold their quality of answers as they grow in quantity of questions.

I searched Quora on the secret to getting actual value out of Quora, and as if on cue, here is an answer from Mircea Goia, a Web developer and web consultant (image above:

The value of Quora, as I see it, is that it connects you directly with the experts, experts which can give you elaborate answers on specific questions (the same would be on Stackoverflow.com for example if you are a programmer).

Where else could I find answers given by people like Yishan Wong, J.C. Hewitt, Mark Hughes, Marc Bodnick, Ken Miyamoto, Marc Andreessen, Ashton Kutcher, Adam D’Angelo, Max Levchin, Reed Hastings, Jonas M Luster and many other experts?

You have to find topics you are interested in and discover the experts.

On Google you find results, yes, but you have to sift through them, sort them, decide if they are right or not for you (you have to validate – here on Quora others are validating an answer), which takes time. Many times what you find is not so in dept as you may want. And it’s not personal either.

The greatest thing about these new search services is the best results and answers are voted to the top by other knowledgeable users, providing a much better user experience when observing results.  No more 10 links to a page.  No more SEO crap, where you see the first 10 results yet know they are there because someone knew how to “optimize” the site.  Superior optimization does not lead to superior information.

Although Quora currently attracts a relatively small user base, it might be to their advantage at this stage of the game.   As Yahoo answers became flooded with users, the the quality of information went way down, rendering the service meaningless to any serious web query.  If Quora can correctly harness the cornerstones of expert knowledge, social sharing and social discovery, as well as manage an appropriate growth curve becoming valuable to more and more web users, they have an opportunity to challenge the traditional search incumbents.

The value in Quora seems to be in what most see as in its incredible potential.  Semil Shah, recently on his own Social Search kick as well, has put the future of Quora best:

When all of these Quora threads are tagged in context within topics and subtopics, it builds out the site’s ultimate secret weapon: Topic Ontology. The ontology built so far within Quora is staggering.  For many topics in traditional verticals, the site has already mapped out all the relevant topics and subtopics, tagged them against other relevant pages, and created an entire hidden architecture of related pages that are all built into its own system with little to no contamination. Think of these topics as plates on a planet, rubbing against one another and moving over time to form entire new land masses — this is how fundamentally groundbreaking Quora could be for the web.

As I noted last time, research has shown that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going, Shah agrees: “advertisements that are targeted against specific Quora threads will know everyone who has subscribed to that thread, their explicit interests, and related questions. That alone on an ad-model basis could be worth billions of dollars.”  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.  I wonder if Google and Microsoft have asked “What’s The future of Search?” on Quora lately?

The question remains – What will happen to Google’s dominant search position as these new platforms grow and take shape?  If history repeats itself, Google will be moved aside as another platform takes over (or a multitude of platforms share space in a more equal search market).  Once dominant IBM shed it’s power position to Microsoft.  Aol, valued at one time around $160 billion, lost it’s early web dominance to Google.  Facebook has emerged and has a stranglehold on the social networking space with a very interesting future ahead of them.

What Shah and myself are trying to get people to understand is this: “At the same time, no matter what, behind the scenes, Quora is slowly learning about our interests (both explicit and implicit), they way we use language, and our intent through search, following, and voting, using all of this information to perhaps reorganize the web and lay a new foundation for years to come.”  Same could be said about Facebook.  These are interesting times to say the least.

Look for my next post in this Social Search Series, as I determine if long term information still has a search value on today’s real time web.

@jnickhughes

Social + Location + Real time + These 2 Startups = The Future of Search

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part III of the series.  For background, check out Part I and part II.

Social, although hot right now, is not the only technology transforming the web today.  Location-based social search applications are bridging the gap between our online and offline worlds – and in doing so creating a whole new way for people to find and use information.

This post dives into the new territory of Location Relevant Social Search.

We first determined the traditional question and answer model is now insufficient, since the system doesn’t know your exact location, who your friends are or have any contextual understanding of your query.   The resulting answers are typically of low quality and relevance proving a broken model.

Additionally, search technology needs renovating and although Google is currently King of the Search Land they still have a lot to do if they want to hold onto their throne.  Basically, the amount of information on the web is growing so quickly that even the major search engines are bringing back mostly meaningless results.

I am postulating the next generation of search will reside within your network of contacts, and I call it Social Search.  In my first article a graph was used to illustrate four quadrants separating the field of emerging social search startups.  The first quadrant revolves around Location Relevance and it looks as if a few associated startups are positioned well to change the very way we interact and search online.

First, a few tenets we can stand on when talking about Location based social search applications:

  • Most of the worlds information is generated, organized and stored by human beings
  • People generating information are always at a specific location found with exact coordinates
  • So naturally, generated information always has specific geographical data attached to it
  • Combining those data sets: Search + Social + Location + Context = Maximum Relevance

In a related post, Evan Britton noted “the goal of real time search engines is to inform the public of what is going on right now.  By adding location data, internet users can be specifically informed as to the happenings in a city.”  Indeed, real time search results are incomplete without geographical data included in the context.  Location relevance completes the equation to help provide users with the best possible results when searching for specific information.

Location based technologies are changing our lives in every way imaginable.  Take the emerging location tracking application Glympse for example.  Watching someone drive along a map on their way to meet you, being found when lost on a mountain side or viewing thousands of people moving throughout your city in real-time are just a few ways Glympse will change our lives.

Or think about a similar application Geoloqi, a service using persistent location tracking to trigger notifications tied to real-world places.  Maybe it’s a note you or a family member left for you at the grocery store or maybe it’s part of a set of geolocated data that you opt-into subscribing to as a layer because it was of interest to you.  Some use the app to let their co-workers know how quickly they are getting through traffic to arrive at work.  Make no mistake, location aware applications are already changing the way we interact on the web.

Quadrant: Location Relevance

So what happens when you combine social, searching and location?   Annotating results with specific geolocation data when a query is submitted is fundamental to providing users with the BEST answer possible.  According to Bing, over 50% of mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place.  Think how often you quickly grab your mobile device to search for something.  Exactly.  The search world needs to catch up to the intricacies of how we are using the web today.

You can find the entire list of emerging social search startups here, but I am highlighting two emerging startups innovating location-based search and are poised to be big players in the search space.

LOCQL

LOCQL, Seattle startup some would refer to as “Foursquare Meets Quora”, has smartly put together two basic premises; 1) everybody knows a little bit about something and 2) location specific information always make things more valuable.  Marry those together, involve some game mechanics and you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based on where you currently find yourself. Using social power, LOCQL finds the missing links between the user’s queries and the places in the local landscape for which they are searching. They are still in beta but anyone can use the application.

LOCQL Co-founder Robert Mao can see the future of search lies within humans; “The idea for LOCQL came from our life experiences, as International travelers we traveled to many different places, relocated our home’s several times in different countries. There are so many ‘best kept secrets’ only local people know about, those who’ve been there just know it. Unfortunately, without a service like LOCQL, you won’t be able to find it from the web, nor can you find it through search engines.”

A major problem with current search engines is the “objective vs subjective” issue, and the qualitative differences found between their results.  Through quantitative analysis, Mao found up to 60 percent of location intended searches are subjective, meaning relevance can vary a lot between two different users searching on the same subject. “Social search is basically harnessing collective intelligence by crowdsourcing the answer from real people, so by nature it better solves the queries which are subjective.”

With LOCQL, users search or submit on topics and questions – typically in relation to a specific location – and receive highly relevant, useful answers.  “Who has the best burger joint in Seattle?” searched on LOCQL would give you one or two specific answers left by other LOCQL users who actually know the answer.  The same searching on Google will send back hundreds of useless links, most gamed by SEO keywords.  Plus one for LOCQL.

LocalMind

Where LOCQL is building a repository of location based information, Localmind, co-founded by Lenny Rachitsky and Beau Haugh, is centered around a real-time social search platform.  It can be thought of as the power of omniscience at your fingertips — the ability to know what’s happening anywhere in the world, right now.

According to CEO Lenny Rachitsky, they are working on a somewhat obvious concept. “We’re living in the 21st century for god sakes; we have data on people’s locations, we have always-on devices in our pockets, we have all kinds of sensors in our devices and in our world. We know more about what’s happening across the country than we do at the restaurant we’re thinking about going to. We are putting all those pieces together and solving that problem.”

Localmind allows you to send questions to users checked-in anywhere around the world to help solve your basic needs and inquires -  like how crowded is the bar, how many girls at the club, how good is the food at the restaurant, how long is the line at the airport.  More interesting uses include people sending questions to Japan after the tsunami asking if there’s anything they can do to help, or people getting free concert tickets when asking about a concert venue, or saving a family a few hours of travel by finding out a certain hotel was closed.

It has been found that subjective queries can be monetized at 5x – 10x higher than objective queries.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where all this is going.  Google and Microsoft, I hope you are listening.  The problem incumbents face is these types of platforms are so different they are usually built from the ground up using a whole new infrastructure, not tacked onto an existing search tool.

Lenny noted there are 4 core things they focus on: 1) Your preferences, 2) your friends preferences, 3) your current location, and 4) your exact date and time.  Combining those gives users much more relevant and useful information.  Interestingly, Google would have no clue how to answer those above searches and probably just shrugs its big shoulders if you try.  Alas, plus one for Localmind.

The much accomplished team of three launched Localmind at SXSW in March and have already shipped four major updates to the iPhone app.  Their Android app is in it’s final beta release and will be entering the marketplace in a few weeks, and they also have an open API (www.localmind.com/api) that allows anyone to built on top of their platform.  Amazingly, Rachitsky says 70% of searches are answered in 5 minutes and they just reached 20,000 users, both numbers are satisfactory to Rachitsky at this point.

With a newly raised angel round of funding and relocation plans to San Fransisco, Localmind looks like they are warming up to play some hardball.  And LOCQL, a relatively quiet startup still in their beta release, is very strong technically and has a promising future a head of them.  Indeed, it seems both are ready to play David to Google’s Goliath.  Now, where is that rock again?

Next time, I will determine if Location Agnostic applications are changing the way we are searching on the web.  Yes, I’m looking at you Quora.

I Just Asked My Friend About the Future of The Web, and Here is What They Said

Social Search Series: This summer I am embarking on a journey through on the emerging web of Social Search.  Traditionally known as the Questions & Answers industry, this category is currently being transformed by social and mobile technologies.  No more asking a site questions and finding old answers.  I believe the future of the web is ingrained in the dynamic interdependence of social and informational networks.  This is part I of the series.

Traditional Question & Answer sites are old and antiquated.  You know the drill – go to a specific website, type a question into a search bar and a variety of indexed answers come back to you.  The answers vary in context, quality and relevancy.  This was fine in 2002 when the web was less mature, but the reality is with advancements in web technologies it simply does not work today.  The problem is these sites typically:

  • Don’t know your location

  • Don’t know who are your friends

  • Don’t understand the context of your query

  • Are typically of low quality and relevance

Answers tend to be more relevant and helpful when they include this information.  When the system lacks these inputs, the quality of answers remains very low and you are left with an inadequate solution .  In fact, so low in quality you might as well just pick up your phone and call a friend.

Enter a new category of applications emerging on the web.  Social search applications implicitly take into consideration your social network, your location, your demographics, previous search history and other key data sets to help provide you with the best answer possible at that time.  I will not refer to the Questions and Answers space anymore, since I think asking a question and waiting for an answer is quite limiting and the entire concept is antiquated.  I believe we are on the cusp of a new internet category where users leverage their social/local sphere to quickly find relevant information.  I am calling this space the “Social Search” category.  Note that currently I am not including Facebook – the largest social networking site – in this category.  This is a study of startups who are strictly focused on social searching technologies.

This space is heating up and I am starting to read more about emerging companies working to build out the next social/local search platform.  Traditional Q&A sites are starting to see the writing on the wall, with Answers.com just recently massively laying off employees and replacing their CEO and CTO.  In fact, I wrote about a few local Q&A startups a while back noting this space is a game changer on the web.

When evaluating this new space, Four categories/quadrants emerge to separate the players in social search.  I have diagrammed them based on their relation to the four categories.  (If you don’t see an application that might fit on here, please reach out to me)

Location Relevance

Locating a user when a query is submitted is fundamental to providing the BEST answer possible.  According to Bing, over 50% mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place.  Think about how often you need an answer and how often you quickly use your mobile device to find it.  Exactly.  Mobile search will define the next wave of the web.

LOCQL

LOCQL is a Seattle startup some refer to as “Foursquare Meets Quora”.  These guys smartly put together two basic premises; 1) everybody knows a little bit about something and 2) location specific information always make something more valuable.  Marry those together, involve some game mechanics and you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based upon where you currently find yourself.  They are still in beta but anyone can use the LOCQL application.

Others include:

CrowdBeacon

Loqly

Gootip

Hipster

Travellr

LocalUncle

Local Mind

Location Agnostic

Some social search applications do not integrate location technologies into their functionality.  These applications more or less originate around specific topics and knowledge bases, not so much around a specific location.   Although these applications are location agnostic, they still can be relevant to certain users and possibly large search companies.

Aardvark

Aardvark is a way to get quick, quality answers to questions from your extended social network. You can ask questions via an instant message buddy or email. The questions are then farmed out to your contacts (and their contacts) based on what they say they have knowledge of. If you ask taste related questions about music, books, movies, restaurants, etc., they’ll ask people who tend to show similar tastes as you in their profile.

Others include:

Formspring

StackOverflow

Quora

Yahoo Answers

Long Term Value

It is important to create a  repository of information so users have something to search, and if done correctly this can be a great competitive advantage – the largest collection of information generally provides the best and most accurate information to a user.  Most questions have a narrow answer and this information generally does not change much over time.

Quora

Quora, founded by former Facebook employees, is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.   They aim to build THE go to application for wisdom and knowledge.  The cool thing about Quora is you can follow well known people as they continue to add their knowledge to the site. Quora seems to be the emerging leader of these newly minted social Q&A sites.  Thus far they have maintained their focus on the relatively smaller web tech community of Silicon Valley.

Others include:

CrowdBeacon

Loqly

Gootip

Hipster

Travellr

LOCQL

LocalUncle

StackOverflow

Yahoo Answers

Real – Time Answers

Instant interaction technology (real time) has transformed the web from a static information repository to a live, interactive medium.  This single change gave birth to what we know today as the social web, including Facebook, Twitter and many other social interactive platforms.  Search technology is catching up as well, and when infused with social interaction things could get very interesting.  Understandably, this category is nascent.

LocalMind

Localmind allows you to send a question to any place in the world, and get an answer from someone at that location in real-time.  They connect you, temporarily and anonymously, to someone at the location you are interested in, allowing you to ask any question you want, and get an answer in real-time. You can find out how crowded it is at a bar, how long the line is at a club, or how many tables are open at the restaurant.

Others include:

Ask Around (Ask.com)

Aardvark

Formspring

Look for my next post as I investigate: what’s the point of Q&A anyway?  Why am I now calling it Social Search?