Last week we wrote about a startup called IMshopping, which lets you ask questions to human shopping guides about products to buy. One of the ways you can do this is directly through Twitter by asking a question to @imshopping. I tried this earlier today by asking for Mother’s Day gift suggestions. Imagine my surprise when I started getting back answers not only from @imshopping, but also from @answers, lots of them.
The @answers account belongs to Mahalo Answers, the Q&A site that is run by Jason Calacanis. Could it possibly be that Mahalo Answers is hijacking questions directed at IMshopping. Yes, it is. My question is now posted on Mahalo Answers, where anyone there can answer, and every time they do I get another message on Twitter. I never posted this question on Mahalo Answers nor asked them to. Mahalo Answers is stealing my question, isn’t it?
Calacanis (who is our partner in organizing the TechCrunch 50 conference), confirms, “We pull in about 100-200 questions a day from twitter… Usually anything with ‘does anyone know…'” And only “less than 1%” of Mahalo’s total traffic comes from Twitter. I asked that also.
Finally, Calacanis points out: “It’s all public, so folks love it (ie free research).” I am not sure about the loving it part. If I ask a question on Twitter, usually I am looking for an answer from people who are following me. I don’t know if there is such a thing as answer spam—I mean, I did put the question on Twitter—but this comes pretty close. In the two hours since I posted my questions (I also asked for gift suggestions for my wife since we have children), I’ve gotten three answers on Twitter from IMshopping and 11 from Mahalo answers. Both link to a page where the question is posted, along with all the answers. IMshopping doesn’t send you a new tweet every time there is anew answer, which is a far less spammy way to do it.
Actually, I don’t really care that Mahalo is hijacking these questions if I end up getting better answers as a result. And there is an evil genius component involved which is admirable in its sheer audaciousness. Who steals somebody else’s questions?
So how do Mahalo’s answers stack up to IMshopping? To be honest, I found both sets of answers equally unsatisfying. The guides on IMshopping suggested a “personalized oversized metal family tree sculpture,” an engraved wooden keepsake box, personalized throw, and chocolates. The folks from Mahalo Answers came up with a digital picture frame, a gift certificate (thanks), tea, and time with her grandchildren. I am still looking for a good, original answer—something that is not too tacky would be nice. If you have one, please leave it in comments.