The Business Week article explores the start-up ThisNext. ThisNext relies on hundreds of "experts" to search the web, find new trends and post them. ThisNext then sells advertising and makes a small fortune. It'd be a tough sell as a business model because experts are expensive, that is, they are expensive when they don't donate their time. That works out well for ThisNext because they've never paid them a dime. A similar story that I have followed is that of Mahalo. Mahalo pays a whoping $10 per "Search Engine Response" that users generate. It has to take at least 3 or 4 hours to make such a page, and that's if you are skilled at researching and writing. Clearly a bargain for Mahalo.
I believe all of the sites that rely on this "free" help have a few things in common:
- An initial hook that gets the site started. For ThisNext, the founders interviewed experts and prepopulated hundreds of pages before day 1. For Mahalo it was a combination of the $10 hook and some prepopulation.
- A way to seperate the good from the bad. Some sites rely on a democratic system (Yahoo Answers or Digg for example). Some sites rely on paid reviewers, like Mahalo. Some rely on some combination of the two (wikipedia). However it is done, the review cycle must be quick and complete enough to leave an impression of reliability.
- Something New and Interesting. All of these sites enjoy a cult following. This is a bit of a chicken and an egg situation. They are reliable because of their cult following and they have a cult following beacuse they are reliable. Just how to attract this following remains a bit mysterious, but I think the key is a subject matter that is new and mysterious. A new wikipedia won't take off, it's got to be new. It also has to be something that's interesting to everyone in addition to a few core enthusiasts. For example, a site about exotic cars is going to have a larger following then a site about honda accords. Yes, more people own Accords then own exotic cars, but people who don't have a vested interest are more likely to read up on the exotics.