Ask.com is one of the oldest companies on the web, predating even Google, and Q&A has been a focus since the beginning. Now they are adding a human element to their existing, algorithmic Q&A model while expanding into mobile and chat.
In July, they launched a user community in beta, which answers questions that haven’t already been answered on the web. The group is a subset of the 90 million people who visit the site every month. Ask.com finds experts among this community and routes questions to them. You get your question answered in minutes, as opposed to immediately, but you get a real answer rather than a list of links that might not actually be useful. This service is not yet available on the web, but it can be accessed via the Ask.com iPhone app.
“Our big challenge is combining the human element that happens in minutes with the search algorithmic portion of our service which happens in milliseconds and getting people to understand that sometimes you’ll get an answer right away and sometimes you’ll get an answer in a couple of minutes,” explains Doug Leeds, CEO of Ask.com. “The nice thing about the mobile device is it changes expectations in that way too. It’s okay to ask a question, put your phone in your pocket, wait for it to buzz with an answer. On a PC, it’s less okay.”
Interestingly, as the company started to review the comments where users were asking questions of real people, they began to realize that location was becoming an organizing, contextual principal for the questions and answers being posted. This realization led to the development of the AskAround app, which was introduced just in time for SXSW.
“The idea behind the app is wherever you are, there is a conversation about what’s going on around you…and [that conversation] is going to happen on this app,” says Leeds. “What’s really powerful about this thing is that the conversations that are happening are happening amongst the people who are sharing the same location.”
Users login through Facebook and use a slider to determine the geographic radius of conversations they want to see. The radius can be as large as 15 miles. Once users establish the radius, they see and can participate in whatever conversations are taking place within that chosen radius—from what’s going on at a particular bar or concert to the hot topics being discussed throughout an entire city.