Google giveth and Google taketh away, so thank goodness, some would say, for Amazon. Today the book-selling giant launched Askville, an online service that lets users ask questions and get a response from other users, in lieu of posting query after query to one of the Web's many search engines. Google discontinued its own answer service, Google Answers, in November of last year.
Amazon bills Askville as a place where users can "ask, answer, meet, and play." If you'd like to know about food safety or the proper care of hedgehogs, just leave your question on one of Askville's forums, where other users are free to respond. Users get "Quest Coins" and "Experience Points" for their activity, which they can redeem at Questville, a Web site that Amazon plans to debut later this year.
A quick trip to Askville's FAQs shows that Quest Coins and Experience Points are governed by a Byzantine system of rules that determines who gets what and when, and even when points are lost. (Wrong answers? That will cost you five points. "Lame" answers cost 10.)
Unlike Google's defunct service, Askville's users can jazz up their answers with self-made movies from YouTube, bolt.com, and yes, even Google Video. They can also integrate Google Maps into their answers, if their subject deals with geography.
Web 2.0 Spoken Here
Even as Google exits the dance floor, Amazon is not without a partner -- or rather, a competitor. Yahoo's answer site, not surprisingly called Yahoo Answers, offers customized versions for 20 countries (21 if you count the U.S.-based Spanish-language version). Questions run from "What can I expect to pay for a speeding ticket in Missouri?" to such age-old gems as "Is forgetting forgiving?" Forays into hair curling, student loans, Creek Indians, Christina Aguilera, sex scenes in movies, and Super DVD Creator 9.2 (used, perhaps, to record the sex scenes in movies) can also be found.
Sites like these -- sites where users become authors, providing the site with its head count of writers and more than copious content -- are part of the broad-based movement known as Web 2.0, a term that's often as amorphous as the changing set of Web sites that make it up.
"That's such a shifting term," said George Goodall, senior analyst with the Info-Tech research group. "But if we use the common exemplars, the blogging phenomenon, wikis, the rise of Wikipedia, it's very much about community content."
Goodall noted that Amazon may be smart to throw its hat into the 2.0 arena right now, and into answer sites in specific. "You've got users who are motivated enough to post a question," he said. "They're motivated answer-seekers. They're also the users likely to be motivated enough to purchase Amazon products like books, CDs and so on."
So why did Google fail where Amazon now dares to tread? "Google's not a real content creator," said Goodall. "They're really much more a content regurgitator or assisted find."
It will be interesting to see whether Askville catches on with busy business professionals who are pressed for time and need answers quick. Or, will it simply become another social networking site and chatspace for teens and bloggers looking to connect? Time will tell... or maybe we should just go over to Askville to ask?