The answer is just an SMS away…

11 09 2006

The Guardian reports on the success of SMS-based answer services in the UK. The Guardian itself, as well as Google, Yahoo, and all run their own versions of services that allow questions to be SMS-ed in for answering; charges nothing for automated answers, or just US 49c for it premium service.

“But Britain seems to be leading with premium text messaging. Sarah
McVittie, CEO of 82ASK (which corresponds to the keys 82275 on a mobile
keyboard), reckons it has answered a million questions since 2003 and
is expanding at 20% a month largely by word of mouth. It employs 120
“textperts” including PhD students who get paid £6 to £10 an hour, or
by the answer… It is about the “instant gratification of getting right answers
immediately” in a way that is easier than opening a mobile browser.
Since mobile page impressions have been static for years, she thinks
they have a window of opportunity to change the way people get
. [emphasis added -L]

Even bigger is AQA (, shortcode 63336), which launched
in April 2004 and claims to have answered 3m questions and now deals
with 10,000 a day. It has 550 researchers, all working from home, who
are paid 30p a question, with the rest divvied up among operator,
government and the company. Paul Cocerton, one of three ex-Psion people
behind it, claims they often take less than a minute to answer. Like
82ASK, they have access to a bank of past questions (those are the
quick ones) as well as mainstream sources. He claims his researchers
don’t use Google much because it just takes too long. The slowness of
search engines, he adds, is one of the reasons for AQA’s existence, and
that 85% of queries are answered in five minutes. Questions range from
getting pink shoes in Bath to personal relationships. One obsessive
asked 20 questions on car headlights.

I tested them both by asking how many people were alive compared with
all who had ever lived. 82ASK came back within five minutes stating
that an estimated 106.4bn people have lived since humans appeared, so
5.8% of all people ever born are alive today. AQA came back with a
similar answer after 22 minutes. On Monday morning – real query this
one – I asked both to find me a hotel in Ireland within half an hour of
Rosslare en route to Westmeath. Both gave me two hotels with embedded
telephone numbers within 15 minutes but 82ASK was two minutes quicker
and gave prices as well.”

I’m not yet aware of a commercial mobile learning/information service like these operating in Australia, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out…

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , , , clcommunity, talo, networkedlearning

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