Dec. 15, 2008 -- Mahalo, the human powered search engine, is launching a crowd-sourced Q&A feature Monday to compete with sites like Yahoo Answers and Wiki.Answers. But unlike those already out there, Mahalo Answers is creating a marketplace for your knowledge.
When you submit a question, you can offer a "tip" of a few bucks (using PayPal) to whomever can give you the best answer. The money makes responses more reliable and is an incentive to answer accurately and often.
There are point systems to rate members and Mahalo dollars that drive the economy. Each Mahalo dollar is worth 75 cents in real U.S. dollars. Once you have collected more than $40 Mahalo dollars, you can cash them in and Mahalo will send you a check, keeping 25 percent for themselves.
After a question closes, Mahalo adds advertising to the archive for additional revenue. And it will jump start the economy by dishing out several hundred thousand dollars among current Mahalo members and beta testers.
Google had a (now defunct) Q&A site that allowed people to ask questions and pay for answers, but it only involved a select group of professionals doing the research and took a while to get a reply.
"It became a very slow boring process, it didn't have that sort of fun game system to it," said Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis. "And it was high risk."
"Here people compete to give you the best answer," he said.
It's an interesting business model, and from what we've seen can be very addicting. There's certainly a potential for people to become semi-professional "answerers," who are constantly trolling the site for new questions that offer tips. And there's little potential for spam as users will rate them down in rankings, and questioners control who – if anyone – gets their money.
The ranking and rating system also prevent people from abusing the system by offering tips and never following through with a payment. You only have four days to choose an answer or request a refund. If you don't, the users can vote on which question was the best. If you get no answers at all, you automatically get your money back.
Calacanis says questions will probably be a mix of factual requests (they discourage seeking serious health, financial or legal advice) and opinions. You can ask direct questions to specific people as well. The system supports multimedia, so answers can also come in the form of video.
There's also Twitter integration, where you can tweet your questions to encourage your followers to answer – if it's successful, maybe this could become a revenue model for the microblogging service. So many people are already asking questions to their legions of followers, why not include a little cash incentive?