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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the O’Reilly Web2Expo in NYC (thanks @brady!). My talk was entitled “How to Create a Location Aware Group Chat App in 6 weeks” and was based the experience of building Ask Around for SXSW 2011. I have to admit, the title was a bit misleading. While I certainly shared details about how we discovered the concept, organized the team, planned, built and launched – the real story was in the unexpected positive side effect this project had on the team and the company. It wasn’t my original intent to share that subplot. But, as the presentation took form and I relived the experience, I realized that this project impacted us as individuals and as a team in many more ways than I had imagined.Let me bring you up to speed first.
The Ask Around project as an unusual one for Ask.com for a few reasons. First, it was an experiment like none we’d conducted before. We had set SXSW as our debut event which meant we had 6 weeks to build & launch! Second, we were building an iPhone app which was something we were relatively new to, and third it was our first use of location on mobile. Here are the key ingredients to how we did it, some of which are extras I didn’t share at the conference. If you’re not into Cliff’s Notes - the full 20 min presentation can be viewed below.
- Know how much you’re willing to risk. We used a Freelance Developer found through tapping trusted networks as the dev lead and added members of our Mobile Scrum team as our confidence grew. This allowed us to rapidly prototype early with little (1 week slip) disruption to existing strategic roadmaps. We chose mobile to reduce risk to our entrenched user base and monetization model.
- Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. Agencies told us it wasn’t possible. Their priorities and constraints are different from yours – be persistent and find a way.
- Scrum – The team was used to daily meetings, releasing often, removing obstacles and pivoting quickly. This was key to being able to build a full feature chat service in 3 weeks.
- Inspire yourself – Setting an extremely challenging goal and fighting to hit it was motivating. The team shared a defining experience that bonds them to this day. Make it inspiring!
- Constrain yourself – The time and budget constraint forced us to focus on what was really important, be creative, make decisions quickly and be scrappy. Try it – see what happens.
The REAL lesson wasn’t learned until we got to Austin. We took 11 people, including the Scrum team, to SXSW with us. Best decision we could have made. Without them the after effect wouldn’t have happened. The team spent 4 days on the ground, using the product, face to face with users in their natural (well, as natural as sxsw can be..) habitat. It was like fast forwarding through months of usability tests! We saw how users search for apps in the Itunes store, what they think about before they sign up with Facebook (photo & name are ok as long as you don’t post to my wall!), how few techies were running the latest iOS, and most of all – how EASY it is to talk to users and gain valuable insights just by sharing a beer (and maybe some cell phone power…).
The best part was that every one of us there was touched in the same way by the time spent with people using the product with us. Everyone had a different story when we got back, a different nugget they’d learned or gotcha they’d uncovered.
That’s the story I wanted to share at Web2Expo. Sure, the tips/tricks about how to build something new quickly are valuable. But what I was really hoping for was to inspire just one person in the audience, to dare to take on a challenging experiment, and then launch it, as a TEAM, discussing feedback from the users – listen, and learn, and observe what happens to the team. Because for us, the real win wasn’t in the # of people using Ask Around, but in the ah-ha moment, the mental shift that getting developers closer to the end user is the secret to success. We’ve come a long way at Ask.com since March. We now have a 300+ Ask.com User Panel that we tap for feedback on upcoming launches and issues we struggle with. We also use tools like UserTesting.com and watch the videos as a team and in company wide meetings. And as I shared this story with the folks at Web2Expo I was reminded of the importance and that we can do even more to open our minds to creative possibility, take more risks in experimentation and find news ways to connect with our users for the sake of building innovative products for them.
I’m tempted to share early breakthroughs from an Improv Skills Program we’ve started here at Ask…but I think I’ll leave that for a future blog post…Until then – throw in some constraints, conduct an experiment, introduce a developer to a user and see what happens! I’d love to hear what you discover!
Lisa Kavanaugh, Chief Product & Technology Officer
Now that the Q&A Community is open to everyone, you can now share questions on Facebook and Twitter. Whether it’s a burning question that you think one of your friends or family can answer or it’s so darned interesting, you just have to share it. No matter the reason, you can now expand your community experience!
All you have to do is navigate to the question you want to share, click “Tweet” or “Like” and then click “confirm.” If you’re not already logged in to your Facebook or Twitter account, you’ll be prompted to do so.
In addition to sharing questions, you can also include YouTube videos in your answers. Simply add the YouTube URL to your answer and when you click “Answer this Question,” the video will be embedded as you see above.
If you have suggestions for features you’d like added to community, let us know! Comment here or visit our feedback forum.
Payton, Director of Community Management
Recent news headlines have made it clear that consumers aren’t shy when it comes to voicing their opinions about changes to a favorite brand’s product or service offering. Social media has made it easy for anyone with a smartphone or an internet connection to express their opinions and find an audience for their point of view. It’s more important now than ever for brands to ensure they’re incorporating consumer feedback. A continuous feedback loop helps companies anticipate the reactions of their user base and act accordingly.
At Ask, we use a variety of approaches to stay connected with our users and make product innovation a truly co-creative process. Each month, thousands of Ask.com users complete our site satisfaction survey, provide suggestions for improvement in our Q&A community and in our footer Feedback link, visit our Facebook and Twitter pages, and participate in usability testing. When more than 60 million people rely on your brand each month, there really is no such thing as too much feedback.
One of the newest feedback initiatives we’ve launched is the Ask.com User Advisory Panel. Over 300 Ask users from across our website, Q&A community, and mobile apps agreed to participate in a private, online research community to provide input on Ask.com initiatives over several months. User panels like ours are unique in that they allow a space for good ideas to both emerge and be refined over time. To date, our Advisory Panel has helped us optimize our site design, get ideas for brand advertising, and communicate our most important deliverable – great answers – in a way that’s universally understood.
Like all good research projects, our Advisory Panel has also brought forward some surprises. Specifically, how much our panelists appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback that can help Ask improve and that their respect for Ask has increased because we consider user input to be a critical aspect of our decision-making process. For our part, we’re thrilled that so many of our users are willing to have a meaningful conversation with us and we’re working hard to ensure that Ask stays on their favorite brands list!
Ann Semeraro, Director, Consumer and Market Insight
Players rack up points and compete to win prizes by correctly answering trivia questions related to the current and past Disrupt conferences, speakers at the show, and general industry trivia. They can earn points either at our live trivia booth in a head-to-head competition or on our website, AskDisruption.com. Winners of the live trivia rounds are able to even grab cash in our Ask.com Cash Booth. Q&A Disruption is our play-anywhere (from any device) Ask.com trivia game built for Disrupt SF 2011 attendees. Today’s contest came down to a final, last-minute live trivia showdown between our first and second place contestants to determine our winner, see below for pictures!
I also had a chance to check out some of the conference’s speakers today, including an excellent kickoff speech from former TechCrunch Co-Editor Michael Arrington, a Fireside Chat by Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, a Founder Story from Dustin Moskovitz from Facebook and Asana, and a Startup Battlefield Competition, where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a group of potential investors in front of a live audience.
All in all, it was an action-packed first day and a promising start to the conference. There’s bound to be some exciting announcements throughout- stay tuned for more info and dont forget to play at AskDisruption.com for a chance to win cool prizes!
Sheree Polonsky, Public Relations
Video has become a huge component of today’s social web experience. As such, it’s no surprise there are plenty of new start-ups on the scene (most notably Vyou, touted in the press a YouTube meets Facebook meets Quora) as well as sites like Mahalo that allow users to upload and share “how to” videos with each other.
Web users certainly love video - today seven in 10 adult Internet users watch videos, and 50 percent report watching humorous videos, up from 31 percent in 2007. Viewing educational videos jumped from 22 percent to 38 percent.
Video is the future, and as the Web’s sixth biggest property, we see a ton of users engaging with video on our results pages – in fact approximately 1 million clicks a month go to YouTube URLs today. As a Q&A site we see a fairly high amount of “how-to” like questions just begging to be answered visually, especially in categories like art, science, cooking and exercise.
So, in the next few weeks, Ask will take the first steps in making video a more vibrant part of our Q&A community with the integration of the YouTube API. That means, later this summer, when a user answers a question and includes a YouTube link, the can see the full thumbnail and metadata information, as well as play the video within the page, similar to how Facebook does. Our own Dave Amato shared the details with WebProNews today. Also, check out the screenshot below.
A small step, but a significant one as we use this as a springboard for uncovering more ways to create a shareable video experience on Ask.com. For example, the API makes it easier for us to feature and scale videos across our algorithmic responses and Answer Products, such as Smart Answers. And it’s the building block for even richer video integration, such as the potential for users to record and upload their own video answers to questions within the community.
This opens new doors for our Q&A partners as well. Partners in our Branded Q&A beta program will be able to distribute existing video answers and content across our growing user community. Smart Answers will showcase video directly within the answer itself, enabling partners to present users with a more helpful and detailed response (for example, you can imagine how this Smart Answer could benefit from an integrated video component).
Would you like to interact with more video as part of your Q&A experience eon Ask.com? Let us know what you think!
Jonathan Chickneas, Senior Product Manager
Growing our community the right way is key, and adding value (not just bells and whistles) is critical. As such, injecting a social layer to Ask.com in places where it makes the Q&A experience better is a key emphasis for us. Over the past couple of months, we have implemented social functionality across the site to accomplish this, including being a launch partner for the Tweet button, allowing users to “follow” people who consistently provide great answers, and providing more opportunities for sharing answers across an individual’s social network.
But tying into social platforms can do more than just make it easy to share content and invite friends. With user permission, we can also pull in profile information from other networks to help us understand knowledge areas and expertise. This helps us route questions more intelligently, which also improves our users’ experience.
Soon, we will roll out a feature that will do just that. Ask.com users will be provided the option to import profile data – interests, places traveled, work history and experience, and so on — from Facebook and LinkedIn. We think LinkedIn is especially relevant given the rich amount of work-related expertise (say you’re a car mechanic or a search marketing whiz) we can glean from that platform.
So, what’s the latest in a nutshell? A quick look below – Forbes’ Bruce Upbin provides more context in his blog, which you can find here.
- Universal log in: You can now log into Ask.com using Facebook or Linked credentials.
- As of this week, you can now easily invite your Facebook and LinkedIn friends into the Ask.com Q&A experience.
-The ability to import and route questions based on Facebook and LinkedIn profile data coming next month.
As always, your feedback is appreciated. Please go here to tell us what you think (must be logged in to view).
Jason Rupp, Senior Director, Product Management