Expertise sites and technology

Where does content for the web come from? One way is to allow people to ask questions, and allow experts to provide the answers. There are a variety of web sites and web technologies that are building at least part of their business model on this idea.


Abuzz provides software to support workflow between anyone asking questions, and anyone answering the questions. They were purchased by the New York Times, and provide the 'community' software for the New York Times website.

On February 14, 2000, the AnswerFriend.Com lists only an address and phone number, but they posted this announcement to the Linguist List: is a dynamic fast-paced start-up organization that will revolutionize the way everyone will interact with the 'Net. Developed by two PHD grads at MIT, backed by the best technical and management talent in the business, we are looking for smart, energetic, team players that are looking to build the next generation of questions answering products and tools. This is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Their specifics:

800 West 6th Street, Suite 1000
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 225-5400

Update (24-August-2000): Lots of stuff on their website. There's an article in today's Wall Street Journal as well. Investors include Andersen Consulting, according to WSJ, but I don't see them listed on the site. Although one of their products is "supportFriend", their customer support page gives you a phone number to call... bills themselves as " is the oldest & largest free Q&A service on the internet." "connects you with hundreds of real world experts, ranging from astronauts to zookeepers. These experts have volunteered to answer your questions for free!" (their words).

Ask Jeeves

Ask Jeeves allows users to type in questions in their own words, and Ask Jeeves attempts to show links to web sites where those questions can be answered. Ask Jeeves currently does not provide content for the answers, just links to the answers.

Ask Jeeves does not describe how the question matching works. However, they are the target of a patent-infringement suit by two MIT professors. Their patent (if I read it right) claims to cover any technology which annotates web sites with natural language (such as questions) and provides natural language processing (NLP) matching. (Note: I believe their suit is without merit, since prior art--some of it my own--exists, but I am not a lawyer).

In's model, users pose a question, and anyone can answer. Eventually, users will have to pay for the answers.


The following job announcement came from Cymfony:

Date:  16 Feb 2000 16:27:41 -0000

From:  Wei Li 

Subject:  Comp Ling: Research Scientist at Cymfony Inc., Williamsville, New


> Rank of Job: Rsearch Scientist

> Areas Required: Computational Linguist

> Other Desired Areas: Natural Language Processing

> University or Organization: Cymfony Inc.

> Department:

> State or Province: New York State

> Country: USA

> Final Date of Application: July 2000

> Contact: Wei Li


> Address for Applications:

> 5500 Main Street

> Williamsville

> NY 14221



> Computational Linguists Needed


> Cymfony, located in suburban Buffalo, New York State, USA, is a leader

> in technology pertaining to intelligent search and retrieval, including

> question answering systems.  This fast-growing company has IMMEDIATE

> OPENINGS for research scientists in natural language processing.  SEVERAL



> The ideal candidate will have a Master's degree in Computer Science or

> related field with experience in natural language processing,

> computational linguistics, or information retrieval.  Proficiency in C++

> programming is required.


> Salary will be commensurate with education and experience.  Cymfony also

> offers an attractive benefits package.  All positions are full-time.

> Please forward CV with references to:


> Cymfony, Inc.

> Attn: Wei Li

> 5500 Main Street, Suite 206

> Williamsville, NY 14221, USA

> Email:

> Fax:    (716)-565-0308

Still, they look like a 'text extraction' company. has a pool of experts, who negotiate a fixed or hourly fee for answers--the average cost is around $45. The site gets a percentage (20%).

Like, has a pool of experts. Some, or even most experts answer for free; others charge. The site gets a percentage (15%). was recently purchased in a stock swap by

Expert Response Server

Neodesic created a software architecture for interaction between questioners and experts. User can ask questions on the site. If their question matches a question the system already has an answer for, this answer is given. Otherwise, the question is routed to experts for answers; the question and answer are indexed and added to the site content, and thus the expertise grows.

This software is being used in Neodesic's site for transportation fleet managers. It has also been used in NASA's Classroom of the Future's BioBLAST project, where it was used to link students to NASA scientists and engineers. allows registered users to ask questions and get answers; done on a barter/credit system.


The following job announcement appeared from IBM:

Via: "Joseph Raben" 

Date:  Mon, 14 Feb 2000 20:09:33 +0000 (GMT)


Subject:  Summer student positons at IBM Research, Hawthorne, NY

> Question Answering is a relatively new subfield of Information Retrieval

> aimed at returning to the user either explicit answers, or at least

> passages containing them, in response to fact-seeking questions.  This is

> in distinction from traditional IR which simply returns lists of document

> ids.  To do well at QA, the system must perform, at a minimum, shallow NLP

> and employ some world knowledge.  We are looking for a summer student to

> assist us in the task of integrating an ontology with our QA system and

> expanding the ontology for specific domains.  The applicant should have a

> background in computational linguistics, cognitive science, knowledge

> representation or related field, and have good programming skills; advanced

> graduate students are preferred.  Please send resumes to

>      Dr. John M. Prager

>      IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

>      P.O. Box 704, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598, USA

> or


> To find out more about summer jobs in general at IBM Research, go to



In's model, users ask a question. The right to answer the question is auctioned off to experts. The site gets a percentage (20%). provides a matching service between questioners and experts. The questioner and expert exchange a phone call; persumably the direct human contact is perferred by some. Users pay by the minute; the site takes a percentage (30%).


A startup with little on their current website, says they are:

Thrownet, an early stage, angel-funded, startup based in San Francisco ... [will] define the next generation of advanced search technologies! Thrownet is developing technology to enable users to find an answer to a question by utilizing proprietary search and information retrieval technology.

To check out...

From Wall Street Journal article.


  1. Experts, Experts, Everywhere, in Business 2.0.
  2. Hints from Heloise Meets the Web, in The Industry Standard.
  3. Linguist List


Any suggestions? Mail them to Will Fitzgerald.