At the Street Fight event last week in New York I was chatting with Darby Sieben of Yellow Media and Sebastien Provencher of HomeAdvisor. The question I posed was: Why have local Q&A sites — indeed most Q&A sites — failed?
It’s a question I’ve been thinking about for a little while.
Sure . . . there are a bunch of sites that still exist: Ask (now a Q&A engine in part), Yahoo Answers, Answers.com and so on. Quora’s still alive and so is ChaCha. However Aardvark was bought by Google and shuttered. Facebook closed down its Questions product and most recently LinkedIn Answers ended.
LocalMind was acquired by AirBnB last year. However it’s unlikely the site could have built a sustainable business on its own. Now it will become a piece of functionality in a larger entity with a business model.
While there might be specific answers for the closures in each case overall there seems to be a pattern of falling short of expectations. One very obvious answer to the “why have they failed” question is “lack of critical mass.” Any consumer site or app needs sufficient usage to become sustainable but local apps are a particular challenge — because usage in Boston doesn’t translate equally into usage in Austin or San Diego.
In a Q&A context there typically aren’t enough people with sufficient expertise to answer all the questions in real time or even quasi-real time (10 minutes to a few hours). Yet local Q&A should work. It works “on paper” as an alternative to search.
The idea of tapping local expertise for recommendations, which are more desired and trusted than other forms of information, is logical and seemingly even feasible. But it really has never happened.
Some version of social search is the closest I suspect we’re going to get (i.e., Bing Social Sidebar, Google+ search, Facebook Graph Search, Foursquare). By capturing likes, reviews, recommendations and other affirmations of business quality and capabilities, Q&A can be made “asynchronous.” People can leave a trail of recommendations for others to find later (or when the need arises) through intent-based search and discovery.
Local search with reviews (e.g., Citysearch, Yelp) has been doing a version of this for years. The difference now is the inclusion of the social layer to add a trust filter to the equation. And if well conceived and executed effectively “asynchronous Q&A” or social search can provide the kind of value that I and others had hoped local Q&A would be able to deliver in near real time.
There will also always be groups and ad hoc usage of social networks for local recommendations. But other than the simplistic argument that it’s very difficult to gain usage for local Q&A, I’m still not quite sure why nobody has succeeded in this segment.
What do you think? Why has local Q&A largely failed to date?