The digital reference service GuruNet Corp. has switched from a subscription fee business model to an advertiser revenue model with its launch of the free Answers.com service. Answers.com draws on more than 150 reference sources to generate information on more than a million topics. Sources include specialty search engines, encyclopedias, almanacs, image databases, and dictionaries. The latest addition to its content collection is Wikipedia, the collaborative volunteer encyclopedia. Founded in 1999, GuruNet renamed itself Atomica for a short time and targeted the enterprise market. The company acquired the Answers.com domain name in 2004. In launching the new free Web service, CEO and founder Robert Rosenschein announced: “Changing market conditions in the area of paid search have allowed us to share our products with a broader audience, and we’re excited to open it up, for free, to broad usage.” Though existing GuruNet.com subscribers will continue through their subscription periods, no new subscribers will be accepted.
Rosenschein added: “Students, teachers, professionals, and users of all ages will enjoy our streamlined interface. We expect to generate revenues as many search engines and content sites have done successfully, with ads and sponsored links.” The million-plus topics in Answers.com cover words and phrases as well as people, places, things, news, sports, weather, etc., and encompass subject areas ranging from business to literature, history, science, computers, the law, medicine, nutrition, language, and more. Sources for Answers.com include reference publications from Houghton-Mifflin, Columbia Press, Roget, Investopedia, Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, CBS Marketwatch/Inlumen, and AccuWeather. The service even provides sound pronunciations of words, as well as single-word definitions for 14 languages.
Answers.com works in several ways. Users can go directly to it and enter terms to retrieve answer pages. They can also download the free add-on software, 1-Click Answers, which offers three routes to Answers.com information—an AnswerBar docked on the side of the user’s screen, an Internet Express toolbar option, and an Alt-Click option. It also offers a plug-in for the increasingly popular Firefox browser, as well as Netscape, Opera, Mozilla, Safari, Konqueror, Lynx, etc. With the Alt-Click feature, users can click on any word or phrase while in application software (such as MS Word, Office, an e-mail client, or a browser) to receive a definition or answer page immediately.
Though formally out of the enterprise market, GuruNet continues to encourage partnership arrangements and provide special offers for institutions. It offers to incorporate Answers.com as an answer box to proprietors of search engines and Web portals. It will even integrate reference information with proprietary information on such sites under a revenue-sharing model. It also supports integration of its answers into software packages tied to hardware.
For the academic market, GuruNet continues to offer a subscription service for those purists who want to eliminate ads from the Answer pages. In the academic market, Answers.com would apparently compete with xrefer, a library vendor that merges hundreds of reference tools from some 36 publishers to generate almost 2 million entries. Accessing xrefer’s information, however, not only requires a subscription by a library (reputedly no more than a couple of thousand dollars a year), but also requires users to exit their current activities, direct their browsers to a subscribing library Web site, and then re-enter terms. Some xrefer subscribers do access special features such as putting a search box on courseware or using the visual mapping option. A Specialist Reference service allows librarians to customize reference material for individual institutional needs.
GuruNet will still develop and distribute its 1-Click technology. GuruNet also supplies content to Amazon.com’s A9.search engine (based on Google spidering) and to Comet Systems.
If you want to test the service, here’s a suggestion. Put in your first name and see its origin—e.g., an early, now-deemed fictional saint and martyr or a dictionary term—and then wander among all the appearances of people (or even places) that share your name. Watch out, though! This kind of casual learning can take a lot of time from a busy work schedule. Now, who was it that said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing?” Oops. Apparently, that’s “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” It’s a “maxim, originally a line from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism, (1709),” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
What good is an answer without a source?