Ahh, so good to get back to my blog. My excuse is not a bad one, I had to complete and orally defend my comprehensive paper for Pepperdine University where I am working on my doctorate in Educational Technology. Good news, I passed with no modifications and can now move on to the glory that is the dissertation process.

As I continue the implementation of our 24/7 ref service at San Diego Mesa College I am becoming more aware of the competing reference services that have cropped up. Most do not appear to be in direct competition with our chat service because they are geared toward the mobile phone user however this tells me that this is a market we will need to breach at some point, sooner rather than later, so I am taking note.

From what I have gathered most mobile chat services have not actively sought experts. Here are some of the mobile services that have come onto my radar as most popular (or most hyped) beginning with Cha Cha which boasts “free mobile answers. Anytime. Anywhere.” It is my understanding that the answers to Cha Cha mobile questions come from Cha Cha Guides who are people who do not need to know how to do anymore than a Google Search. Their incentive to do a good job is monetary, however to begin they can receive as little as two cents per answer. The incentive to do well is by building a reputation of respected answers which will return a greater monetary gain.

Another model that I find interesting is from Amazon called Askville. First off I’m not sure how people stumble into finding this service, it is not promoted on their homepage and if you put the word “askville” into their basic search you will not get the service either. That being said I have heard of Askville through various journals, tech mags and blogs which means it’s promoting successfully one way or another. Their questions seem to be more on the lines of “read my mind” or “tell me the future” so I wonder if anyone would actually use them for an academic question. Additionally their motivation system is a relatively  complicated voting, points and score system which seems very tedious for the casual user. I am surprised that Amazon is not watching this site more carefully there is a lot of silliness going on here.

Mahalo Answers I find to be much like Askville with the exception that some people can earn money if the asker has offered a “tip” for the chosen answer, the tips are small and chances of being chosen as best are very subjective. They too have a less than remedial system of points and levels that prove your answering credibility but after playing with it for a day I don’t see the draw. Again, many of the questions are in the same vein as Askville however with a bit of real money at stake I did see the quality of questions and answers a bit higher, if forced I would choose Mahalo over Askville.

Finally, there is Mosio. With Mosio, you text a question into your “Qniverse” (the other people online with Mosio) and they answer (much like Yahoo Answers, another mobile and online 24/7 ref service offered for free). Anyone can answer with anything and you receive up to four answers for every question asked. You must trust the collective which has little or no oversight. What makes them stand out in my mind is they are using Twitter. They call it Twitter Answers and basically you (assuming you are signed up with Twitter) follow “twitter.com/qna”. You can ask questions by using a direct message to “d qna your question” and those in the community will answer. Although the idea is a good one I am not sure how much different it is than putting your question out there to the Twitterverse in general, usually, if you have enough followers, you’ll get a reasonable answer to any question that can be answered in microblog fashion.

So far I see these mobile services as a good start but there is a long way to go. I have yet to find one that is academic (or atleast serious) in general although I don’t know if that would make a good business model at this point. I still feel that for our academic audience the 24/7 reference service  (we use Question Point through my library) is still the highest quality and our biggest obstacle is getting the promotional word out. Come to think of it many public libraries have 24/7 reference services as well and when I tell my information literacy classes they are surprised, I have yet to have one student tell me that they were familiar with the service. Just think trained reference librarians waiting for anyone and everyone to ask their questions and give real authoritative answers, for free, and the public has no idea that they are paying for it. We all need more marketing classes, now there’s an idea for mandatory MLIS classes promotion and marketing!

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