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Answerbag Seeks Its Answer, Your Question

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The question and answer segment of social media has a lot of big names playing in the space, but not many of their users may recognize Answerbag, a social QnA site that has been online for over three years.

Answerbag is part of InfoSearch Media, which is headed up by former Ask Jeeves International president George Lichter. He and Answerbag’s creator, Joel Downs, chatted with us about the service, especially as social QnA begins to take off again.

Usenet picked up a lot of question and answer threads throughout its thousands of newsgroups. When the Internet became more broadly open to more users, Usenet started to flood with lots of new users and a deluge of spammy junk posts. Many people began shifting to the web and message boards instead.

That frustration influenced Downs. He created Answerbag as a response to Usenet FAQs, which can be eminently useful when kept current. That had not been happening in his experience, as outdated information and broken links abounded.

The popularity of the Internet and the greater availability of broadband access in the US have led to a demand for richer services. Question and answers have trailed along until Yahoo opened up its Answers site, now an enormously popular destination for Yahoo users.

Microsoft also launched a QnA service under its Windows Live brand in an attempt to catch some of that buzz from among its base of Live Messenger and Hotmail users. That product has been modeled heavily on Yahoo’s approach, with both courting their communities.

Answerbag has around one million unique users, and Lichter cited some points of difference about the site compared to the others. One feature Answerbag has enabled that others sites lack are video answers. Users can embed videos from places like YouTube and Google Video as answers when they are relevant to a question.

Lichter noted how the Answerbag technical superiority and focus give it an edge. He said that while Answerbag will try to break a question down by semantics, Yahoo looks more closely at keywords when people query the respective services.

That would provide people looking for an answer before asking a question a better response. “Answer is a pea, while a question is a shell,” Lichter said in describing the process.

It’s a shell that Answerbag will have to break. Lichter said that Yahoo’s and Microsoft’s entries validate the social answer space and indicate how much the market can grow. To grow, by attracting answers, requires a lot more questions of Answerbag’s community.

Downs said that reaching a critical mass of users would be the big challenge. A million users makes for a sizable community, but Yahoo has many more people hitting answers. “People like answering more than questioning,” said Downs, and that demonstrates the issue – more questions, a lot more, will draw many more answers.

The push is on at Answerbag for more of the social answer space. Partnerships are on tap where websites can gain the Answerbag functionality as part of their online experience. They have also released Ask & Answer Widgets for any webmaster to publish.

Each Widget offers Web sites the ability to customize colors, fonts and formatting to fit into the look and feel of their own page To best fit the needs of a specific audience, Web sites can set the specific category from which the questions are drawn and how many questions are shown within the Widget.

Also, the Widgets can be set to select specific questions, such as the most popular, recent, random or moderated questions from Answerbag. An online builder allows anyone to create the code for the widget and embed it in their site’s code.

Answerbag rewards its users and has built up a respectable following. Lichter said questions are moderated, through the help of their users and four part-time moderators. They have confidence that Answerbag can blossom further under InfoSearch’s ownership. We think they may need a partner to help make that happen.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

Answerbag Seeks Its Answer, Your Question
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