Exclusive: Microsofties Debut Local Q&A Site LOCQL (Ahead Of Hipster)

I don’t know if combining one relatively new trend (location-based services) with one that has been around for long but still leaves much to be desired (Q&A) makes perfect business sense, but a growing number of startups sure seems to think it does.

You’ve heard about Hipster, the yet-to-launch local Q&A service that recently raised $1 million from Silicon Valley elite, or perhaps about some of its competitors Loqly, Gootip, LocalUncle or Localmind. As from this week, you can consider LOCQL a new contender.

The concept behind LOCQL’s take on local Q&A is fairly straightforward. Users sign up through Facebook Connect and are then encouraged to share as much information about a given place that could be useful to other people, whether they are visitors or residents.

LOCQL users can vote on answers based on their quality and interact with other community members. Eventually, LOCQL should become collaborative community building an extensive database of answers about places, local businesses and whatnot, on a global scale.

The startup’s co-founder, Haitao Li, tells me they consider the key problem in local search today to not be the data set but the missing link between user queries and location information. LOCQL aims to leverage users’ existing social graphs as well as game mechanics to try and change that.

Li is a Senior Software Development Engineer at Microsoft. LOCQL’s other co-founder is Robert Mao, SDE at Microsoft Research and the company’s FUSE labs.

An early prototype of LOCQL was actually created during a Startup weekend event in Seattle.

The company is at present self-funded but Li says they’ve already been approached by quite some VCs despite keeping a relatively low profile.

Worth noting: Li and Mao still work at Microsoft – they’re moonlighting.

As a matter of fact, LOCQL actually runs on Google App Engine.