4 Things To Expect In The Q&A Space This Year

question mark stamps

Photo: Oberazzi Flickr

The QnA space is starting to heat up with Quora and a new flock of startups looking to help consumers get answers and advice.Are these services all the same? How will they evolve? Ask no more; I’ve got the answers to your questions.

Segmentation of Types of Answers

The difference is the type of exchange, one is fact-based which include questions like, “What is the business model of the Gilt Group?” or “What is the mixture of concrete?”, requiring a precise fact-based answer, the other is opinion-based, “What do you think of the GroupMe texting app?” or “What do you think of Halo Reach?”, requiring sentiment-based responses with text-based comments (manifesting as opinions or advice).”

Expect to see companies jockey for leadership positions within opinion-based Q&A or fact-based Q&A.  For those that don’t establish leadership, expect a number of secondary players to move into vertical topics covering both or either of those segments.

Revenue Models

One of the reasons that the space is so interesting is that there are a number of monetization paths that fit naturally into the user experience and tap into a decision-making consumer mindset.  Following are three of the many models being discussed:

Commerce and late-stage advertising – The last thing 43% of shoppers do before making a purchase is ask for opinions and advice.  Further, accurate question and answer content may lead to some search disintermediation as users go directly to Q&A applications to find more precise results for queries.  This may yield product research activity or early-stage purchasing behaviour.  

Expert Advice – Any tool that brings together those seeking answers with those that have them (experts) has an opportunity to monetise the connection.  In this particular case, there is an opportunity for one-to-one questions and micro-payments for quick and relevant delivery.

Positively impacting the margins within these revenue models is low-cost search traffic from the high volume of text-based user content and social pass-along instigated by new user discovery and inviting users that can contribute.  Even more interesting to a number of folks in the investment community is the off the charts (found in a select few of the Q&A players) engagement levels which creates a nice ad revenue backstop with clear formulas as the above models vet out.

Expect to see Q&A companies experiment with, but not necessarily scale, a mix of the above revenue channels and a number of others in 2011.

Community Definition

The very nature of Q&A is driving a high level of social engagement.  Think about the following for a second…  What is the best way to start a conversation?  Is it with a question?  And further, the best way to connect with a person like you is to know how they would answer a question that is important to you.  Q&A applications have the seeds for active social discovery.

The types of questions and how they are asked often define a person and in turn, they also define the community.  Is the community vertical-based like StackOverflow, is it exclusive like Quora, or is it for everyday people like Opinionaided?

Expect to see Q&A companies clearly state the types of questions that they accept and expect to see rigorous enforcement of those policies as Q&A companies look to differentiate themselves via a defined community.  

Answer types; deep, wide and timely.

Balancing quality, coverage, and speed is top of mind for all Q&A companies.  Currently, on one end of the spectrum with little question redundancy and accurate multi-page answers, but with questions unanswered or answered slowly is Quora, and on the other end of the spectrum is Opinionaided with many of the same questions being asked and occasional non-relevant responses, but real-time speed with dozens of responses coming within minutes.

In addition to those two companies, there are dozens in the middle looking to carve out a piece of the Q&A pie.  Every one of them is rapidly iterating their platform to increase the velocity and quality of responses while moderating for valuable questions.  Companies are using a combination of live moderators, ranking algorithms, text and syntax filtering, flagging, user education, paid experts, and incentives to drive quality.

To drive velocity they are extending their platform for ubiquitous access across devices via apps, mobile web, and web and intertwining social integration throughout the experience (i.e. invite a qualified friend or associate to answer a question) vs. friend scans and invitation sends.  

Expect to see Q&A brands come up with ways to drive engagement and loyalty for users responding to questions beyond algorithm ranking changes.  After all, there will be plenty of questions, but only certain applications will be able to consistently drive a high volume of quality responses across all questions.  

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