For many years I've been a big fan of business ideas that involve the human brain as part of the competitive advantage. Admittedly, it might not be as scalable as some automated web-based widget, but it certainly adds some real value... if done correctly. That's the basis behind Techdirt Corporate Intelligence - it's the human intelligence on top of the technology that makes it valuable over whatever automated solution. So, I remember around 1997 or so being really impressed with the idea behind HumanSearch.com (out of business for quite a while) which had real people who would try to answer questions you sent them by searching the web for you. Basically, web-based reference librarians. HumanSearch had a business model problem (they didn't charge). Now, Google is trying to revive the same idea with Google Answers. It's apparently still in beta, but people can submit questions, including how much they're willing to pay for the answer. Google is looking for "researchers" who answer the questions. There's an application process and the researcher gets 75% of the fee. It doesn't cost Google very much since they only pay researchers based on questions answered. The big question is how Google will do quality control. That's the one big downside to human-based businesses. Quality is everything, and if you can't control it, the business will suffer. The other question, of course, is whether or not enough people have questions that they're willing to pay others to answer on such a random basis. Update: News.com has more details about the program, which they compare with the various "expert" sites that were popular a few years ago.
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