I got this email today from Amazon:

You’re Invited!

As a valued Amazon customer, you’ve been specially picked to get an early look at a new website Amazon has just launched called Askville. Askville is a place where you can ask any question on any topic and get real answers from real people. It’s a fun place to meet others with similar interests to you and a place where you can share what you know. You can learn something new everyday or help and meet others using your knowledge. It’s new, and best of all, it’s free!

To start go to:


– The Askville Team

All I have to say about this, really, is: oy vey. Why is this suddenly such a hot thing for companies to do? What’s the business model here? Didn’t work so well for Google. Plus, why do people use commercially-run Ask services where responses are provided by non-experts when there are about a brazillion libraries that offer reference service online? (Actually I have a hypothesis about that last point: many people don’t know that libraries offer this service because libraries don’t market much or effectively or at all, and Yahoo and Amazon do, in spades.)

Looking at some Askville responses, I have to admit, some of them are better than Yahoo Answers responses. But that wouldn’t take much, in my opinion. Some, but sadly not all.

What’s interesting and different about Askville is that it combines a number of tools all in one place. First, it makes use of tag clouds, for Topics Needing Answers and Topics With Answers. Those would be interesting to track over time. There are two reputation system in place, Experience Points and Quest Coins. But what’s really something I’ve never seen before, and frankly kind of distasteful to me, is that there are product recommendations in the responses. As far as I can tell, answerers can place their own product recommendations, and not all do, so at least it’s optional. But I’m really just not comfortable with the idea of mixing reference work and advertising. Am I just being a curmudgeon? Honestly it saddens me to diss Amazon like this, since I’ve been all about them for over ten years now.