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Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

NowNow & Askville from Amazon

Looking for another question-answering service? Amazon is quietly testing two of them, Nownow and Askville. They are each attempting to answer people's questions in their own way.

Askville is a web based service that allows users to ask and answer each other questions. Users can earn points within the system and apparently they can be redeemed on a forthcoming site Questville. This service is very similar to Naver's Knowledge Search, Wondir, Yahoo! Answers and Live QnA. Carmeron Marlow of Yahoo! has a detailed post discussing his experiences as a Beta tester.

NowNow is a mobile question-answer service that has a new twist on it. It is going to use Amazon's own Mechnical Turk to handle the answers. It is free during the testing phase. The service is currently in closed Beta and they do not seem to be accepting addresses from the website. NowNow's FAQ shares some particularly interesting information.

Click thru for the rest:

What is NowNow?

NowNow is a service that mobile users can use to find answers to any question via mobile email. When you post a question to NowNow via email (, our NowNow workers will surf the web to find the answer for you. NowNow workers are users who are being paid to search the web on your behalf. NowNow bypasses the need for mobile users to go to the web to find answers to questions as NowNow will send you an email with up to 3 answers to each question you ask. We have not finalized our pricing for each question, however, we expect each question will cost less than $0.25. During this beta-test period all questions asked will be FREE.

How does NowNow make sure I will get high quality answers?

NowNow has partnered with an company, Mechanical Turk (, who has a community of users completing various tasks for numerous businesses. By partnering with Mechanical Turk we are paying the Mechanical Turk community (our NowNow workers) to answer your questions. We pay our NowNow workers based on the quality of answers provided, which is why we encourage you to tell us if an answer submitted was "lame", "junk", "like" or "great" answer. We take those ratings and keep track of the performance of each NowNow worker in the Mechanical Turk community. If an NowNow worker's rating falls below an acceptable level, he or she will no longer be allowed to participate as an NowNow worker. While our NowNow workers will do their best to help answer every question, some questions simply don't have clear answers (e.g., "Should I breakup with my girlfriend?"). It's also possible the answer to your question is simply not available. If you do receive an answer, but are not satisfied with it, you have the option of resubmitting your question for a new set of answers for free, you can apply for a refund (when we start charging for each question), , and/or you can give a specific NowNow worker a poor rating by flagging any specific answer as "lame" or "junk". NowNow actively monitors the performance level of our NowNow workers and uses your ratings as a method to remove poor or abusive NowNow workers.

This is quite different from a number of other services currently on the market. Google Answers, expensive and exclusive, uses 500 vetted researchers and the price ranges from $2.50 to hundreds of dollars. Wondir, Yahoo! and Microsoft are all offering free services that rely on the wisdom of the crowd to select the correct answer. The recently launched Mozes Mob (radar post) also focuses on answering questions in the mobile space. All of these services make it very clear who asked and answered the questions and most of the services are ad-supported.

NowNow is unique in several ways. First, they are relying on a (probably) scaleable answer-providing backend -- MTurk. Assuming NowNow is paying a good wage, people will be willing to answer questions as they come. Second, they are charging, but only a very small amount. If people find it valuable (meaning it's fast and accurate), they won't mind paying for it. Third, they are paying the answerers based on the perceived quality of their work. The answerers are getting paid and there are consequences for non-performance; the answers should be higher quality. Fourth, publicly sharing the question-answer pairs is not a focus. The FAQ states that the pairs will be available on the web, but they won't be identifiable and it isn't visible currently.

I think that this is an interesting, but unsurprising move by Amazon. Mobile is huge, they have existing billing relationships and they have the platform. I wonder how Askville, Questville, and NowNow will interact.

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Comments: 11

pwb   [10.24.06 10:34 PM]

I think it's cool that Amazon has a little Google in it. Hopefully it can keep the book business going so that it can fund some of this intersting stuff.

Alex Andronov   [10.25.06 12:55 AM]

A firm in the UK and Ireland has a great mobile service. It's called AQA (Any Questions Answered). Text a question and they send you back an answer. It costs 1 UKP so it's more expensive than the Amazon service, but the answers are pretty acurate and fast. And the people answering the questions tend to have quite a sense of humour about it.

Liza Daly   [10.25.06 05:20 AM]

I'm not surprised that other companies have jumped into this market, but for web-based answers I don't see any model better than Ask Metafilter, which is basically free, truly community-based, and entertaining as hell.

(The fact that it costs $5 to get an initial Metafilter account is a bonus, not a drawback, keeping the quality of the entire site much higher than if it were wide open.)

Scott   [10.25.06 08:07 AM]

I wonder if the Ask Metafilter model works in the world at large. The MeFi community is well informed, engages in self-policing, and is remarkably altruistic. I commend it for those personality traits, but find those same traits absent in much of the "real" world. So maybe the quality of the questions and answers are less about the features/technology and more about the people who use them.

Sherwood   [10.25.06 01:57 PM]

I think that paid and community answering have very different applications. Amazon is looking at marketplace as the differentiator:

- web equals community, spare time, and free.
- mobile equals solo, urgent, and therefore worth money.

I think the "urgent" part is the real differentiator here. Urgent can mean need-for-speed, need-for-accuracy, and other things as well.

NowNow has the potential to fulfill all these urgency needs. Not only can Mechanical Turk pay workers, but there are also "qualifications" that workers can test for. So, once volume builds-up, there could be an army of very specialized researchers ready and waiting for just the right question.

josiah   [10.27.06 11:36 AM]

OK fine but how are they goign to collect 25 cents?? Credit card?? Maybe if Amazon also deploys a micropayment system...APal?

craig   [10.31.06 01:05 AM]

Based on other mturk jobs, no, it won't pay a decent wage. Figure 1 to 5 cents for 5 to 15 minutes worth of work.

albert   [12.26.06 09:36 PM]

i have a 92 saturn i was driving it and it died i put a new fuelpump,computer,cranksensor,mapsenson,plugs,wires and oil change its getting fuel and spark you can crank it it wont start you can hold the gas to the floor it starts but then dies out spent alot of money about 1,200 please help

Darren Brierton   [02.23.07 07:53 AM]

82ASK offer a similar service in the UK to NowNow, only they have gone the sensible route and use SMS -- answers are billed directly to your phone and everyone with a mobile phone has SMS. How many people use email on their mobile phone? Also 82ASK carefully select and train their "texperts", the researchers who answer the questions, and anwers given are monitored. Anyone can join MTurk. You can learn more about 82ASK here.

Fuzza   [04.06.07 05:34 AM]

wonder if the Ask Metafilter model works in the world at large. The MeFi community is well informed, engages in self-policing, and is remarkably altruistic. I commend it for those personality traits, but find those same traits absent in much of the "real" world. So maybe the quality of the questions and answers are less about the features/technology and more about the people who use them

Animated_librarian   [01.10.08 11:27 AM]

Most public libraries have a FREE LIVE 24/7 reference service that can be accessed with your library card number. The questions are answered by reference librarians all over the world who are getting paid through the library system for their expertise. They can even push websites to users for discussion and the patron gets an archive of the conversation. If unsatisfied the user is also encouraged to give feedback. It is so sad that people are willing to pay for random answers to their questions via e-mail when they have a more superior service happily waiting with trained professionals...sigh

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