Message boards and social networking sites have inarguably put people in a position to communicate with each other on a near-continual basis without having to be face-to-face or on the phone. While many of the people who are your “friends” online aren’t likely to be folks you go grab coffee with or have over to watch the game on a regular basis, they still have a spot in your life that you hold in some regard.
I spend a fair amount of time moderating one of the internet’s most popular Fantasy Football message boards and I am amazed at how wide the knowledge base is there. People come looking for marital advice, and a counselor will chime in. People come looking for home loan advice, a mortgage lender shows up. Someone got popped for a DUI? Lawyers offer free suggestions. Anything I need a complex answer to, I ask the mindhive at that board LONG before I go to Google to find the answer on my own.
This Startup may not be a startup at all really. It might be as simple as adding a new dropdown to message board registration asking “What are you an expert in?” But short of that, let’s go with something from scratch..
Startup #82 – “Everyone’s an Expert at Something”
This startup would be a social network based not on music or dating or taking offline friendships online, but rather in the swapping of professional advice and services among members. The site itself would require many of the features and functions of a standard social network/message board but not necessarily the same appearance. The site would include a marketplace where users ask questions and receive responses from other members. The ability to ask a question comes with the acquisition of “Points.” “Points” can be purchased OR earned by answering other people’s questions. If you answer a question in a category of which you declare yourself an “expert”, such as law or landscaping or beer-brewing, you earn more points then if you simply answer a question in a random category. The quality of answers can be community policed via a “was this answer helpful” rating/voting system.
The incentive to participate in the answering process is two-fold: participants earn points so when they need help with something, they can ask a question of another expert. And participants have the ability to create valuable, branded networking connections that can lead to offline business down the road. (I have hired folks from the aforementioned football message board for all kinds of offline real-money things.)
The site can generate money via:
- Sales of “points” (a la people who are not regular members asking questions of the site’s experts).
- Syndication of original content created via the question/answer function e.g. a series of “How To” books.
- In-site advertising (I think I just threw up in my mouth…but the dreaded “Ad model” does apply here.)
Why will it work? Simple: there are enough people online with the necessary vanity to fill the site with content. MySpace is a success partly because people like to stare at their own pages, their own pictures, their own comments. The user-submitted web is growing precisely because people like the “sound of their own voice.” As such, giving people a chance to declare themselves an expert at something, and then giving them a chance to prove it go hand in hand. The biggest challenge will be in maintaining high-quality answers. Over time, the site could become an archive of questions and answers.
At this point, you are thinking, “This is like Yahoo! Answers…duh.” The difference is that Yahoo! Answers is strictly a question/answer portal. Any networking between folks that is not based on questions and answers has to be carried out somewhere else, either at another Yahoo! product or on another site entirely. This version, for all it’s similarities to Yahoo! Answers will have profile pages, feeds, etc. built in. Furthermore, this idea is tailor-made to be an F8 Facebook application.
What say you?