The Evolution of Q&A Sites

A very early web WIN for me was Thanksgiving 1995.  My father had asked during during dinner conversation, “How old is Kiri Te Kanawa?”  Today, finding the answer is simple.  You go to Google and misspell her name go to Kiri’s Wikipedia page and do the math.  If you are bad at Math, you can even just Google “Hold old is Kiri Te Kanawa?” and get an Answers.com page giving the exact answer, 66.

In 1995, the choices were different.  I searched on Yahoo and a site that had a listing of opera singers. Kiri was on there with her email address!  My father and Kiri had a lovely email exchange during Thanksgiving and I took credit for the World Wide Web answering the question.

The key WIN was answering a question.  If you broke down the Internet into key values you get:

  1. E-Commerce
  2. Email
  3. Reduced cost of application development and deployment
  4. Social Networking
  5. Answering questions

The web is great a this.  The ecosystem is very designed to achieve this goal.  At first there was Yahoo which listed individual sites.  Then Google came along with a much better search algorithm.  Then came the Q&A sites.  There are so many of them, they need a directory just for Answers sites.  Some include:

Ugh, I can’t keep going.  That’s MORE than I need.  I had previous blogged about Q&A sites 2 years ago and only had a small sampling of this list.  Especially when you add in mailing lists, like the jQuery list I posted alot on 5 years ago.  BusinessWeek has an article how Q&A sites can make big money.

Don’t think of this list as an expansion of question/answer choices, but rather a consolidation.  It used to be that you had to go to individual websites targeted at very specific topics, like Opera Singers to get your answer.  Now, you go to a central site and ask your question there.  Google is supposed to do a good job of keeping track of the canonical source, but apparently they are failing big in this area.

This consolidation is big news to me.  It’s a fundamental shift from dispersed to centralized content.  What may happen next is a Q&A “standard” that allows each site to syndicate its information.  This might happen through an intermediary.

STARTUP IDEA: Develop a Mega Q&A site that reads content from every other Q&A site and centralizes all of the results and also consolidates people’s reputation points. 

As someone addicted to answering questions, I am fascinated by these movements.  I hate losing all of my reputation each and every time.  Looking backwards, it seems this consolidation path is the most likely future.  Knowing this, what would you do to capitalize on it?  If only “knowing the future” could turn into money.  It’s not quite as easy as Back to Future Part II and III made it seem.

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