Man, what an exciting time we are living in right now. We are starting to see another aspect if the web explode with innovation – the local landscape. Local web applications are infiltrating almost every aspect of our daily lives – searching, shopping, taking pictures, and now Questions and Answers. Question and Answer sites (Q&A as they are referred to) have been around for quite some time, but only recently have entrepreneurs started innovating on the core concept: You ask a question, someone answers it. Startups such as Quora, Hipster, Travellr, localuncle, and many others are recreating the Q&A space for the era of social connectivity.
Quora, for example, founded by former Facebook employees, aims 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. Questions remain (pun intended) if Quora can uphold their quality of answers as they grow in quantity of questions.
Then there’s Hipster. Quite frankly, no one really knows what this little Q&A startup is doing. If you go to their homepage you are greeted with a prompt to search questions and answers about SXSW, a conference held in Austin, TX every March. Isn’t it almost June? One thing is for sure, they know how to generate PR and attention. I guess we’ll just have to keep an eye on this one.
But what if you added your specific location to asking a question and receiving an answer? Location based Q&A opens doors we only dreamed of just a few short years ago. “What if I could send into the ether a specific question about the city I just landed in and BAM, one minute later I receive an answer from someone I don’t even know who lives here?”
Enter LOCQL, 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 information always make something more valuable. Marry those together and (at scale) you have a living, breathing repository of location relevant information based upon where you currently find yourself. Isn’t that the basis of mobile search? When I use my iphone for search, I am generally looking for a restaraunt, coffee shops, a retail store, an address, directions, and many other location based information. Additionally, what if someone infused a solid Q&A application with mobile commerce capabilities? Mark my words, I believe this space will yield a big hit.
I caught up with LOCQL co-founder Robert Mao recently and asked him a few questions about his company and where it’s going.
Describe and explain LOCQL in a few sentences.
“LOCQL is a location based question and answer site that helps people find answers to places.
LOCQL uses game mechanics to enable social power to find the missing links between the user’s queries and the places in the local landscape they are searching for. Hopefully will be able to bring the local search and location based search to a higher level”
How did you come up with the idea behind LOCQL?
“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 you can find it through search engines. We realized people are increasingly looking for answers about places, according to Bing, over 50% mobile device originated search queries are about a specific place. Google’s Marissa Mayer recently mentioned 20% of all Internet search is about places! In those queries, only around 30% can be solved with today’s information retrieval based search technology. A big pie is missing! We are aiming on make this better.”
Yahoo Q&A has been around for a while. Why attempt a new Q&A site?
“Q&A has been around for a long time, even before search engine become popular. Q&A is one of the most natural modes of communication for human beings and we believe there are still plenty of space to make it even better. As you can see, Yahoo Answer has been there for such a long time, Stackoverflow.com become the most trusted source for the developer community, and the recent rising of Quora.com illustrates how a better designed Q&A can be incredibly attractive and useful. When we began work on LOCQL, none of the Q&A site were specifically for location related questions, or most of them just treat location a name or a category. In our point of view, location answered questions are very important and since they are increasing in frequency they deserve special attention.”
With a lot of competition, besides the location aspect how do you differentiate yourself?
“We do it quite differently, we deeply believe in “Less is more” principle. We do less, so we will be able to provide a better user experiences, especially when designed for the location/place related Q&A. We try to only solve a smaller set of problems than most of the existing players, so we can be much more focused. Another very interesting angel we try to solve the problem is gamification. “Be fun” is another principle when we design our product. If you try LOCQL you will find we have many social game elements build in, in fact some part of the service are purely enjoyable games for you and your friends. No matter if you want to travel, you want to move your home, or find more interesting things around your local community, it’s FUN! We try to make the service fun, playful, and at mean time, so it can capture some value and be useful at the same time.”
What is LOCQL’s current status, and what are your immediate next steps?
“We just opened up to a wider beta. In the first phase, we only let in around 150 test users in order to verify a few of our assumptions and help us understand this space better. We are now more confident and are accepting a wider group of users to try our product, also we released our gaming mechanic in this new phase, so LOCQL will be the most enjoyable Q&A site out there. It’s not just boring questions and answers.”
Image courtesy of of Flickr user Alexanderdrachmann.