You're browsing a Web page or checking out a blog posting and you come upon a term you don't recognize or the name of a person or institution you've never heard of. A quick double-click on the words in question causes a little bubble to pop up with a definition or a description supplied out of the 4 million topics contained in Answers.com's collection of reference sources (www.answers.com). Of course, this user service only occurs if the Webmaster or blogger has downloaded the free snippet of code that activates the AnswerTips service and if users can learn and remember to use the feature on "AnswerTips-enabled" sites. With AnswerTips supplying its content directly to host Web sites or blogs, however, Webmasters and bloggers need not worry about their users drifting off to other sites while looking for clarification.
Content included in the new service includes definitions, explanations, biographies, historical background, acronym expansions, and other quick reference information such as stock prices. The 4 million-plus topics come from more than 120 licensed reference publications as well as other sources such as Wikipedia. The tool scans the text surrounding the term in question to pin down the appropriate reference. For example, click on the word "Paris," and AnswerTips will scan the text to see if it's "Paris Hilton," "plaster of Paris," or "Paris, France," that the user wants to read about. Once a user has reached an AnswerTip bubble, he or she can click on "More" at the bottom of the bubble to reach the main Answers.com site and its full array of content displayed in a separate browser window.
Originally implemented on CBSNews.com, as well as on Answers.com itself and its subsidiary service, WikiAnswers (http://wiki.answers.com; formerly FAQ Farm), AnswerTips launched with beta sites already running, including A VC (http://avc.blogs.com), CleverClogs (www.cleverclogs.org), California Polytechnic State University Library (www.library.calpoly.edu), and Write Technology (www.writetech.net).
Interested parties can download the AnswerTips software snippet directly from Answers.com (www.answers.com/main/answertip_landing.jsp) or from the widget gallery of TypePad (www.sixapart.com/typepad/widgets/publishing-tools/answertips.html). Jay Bailey, director of marketing at Answers.com, said the process of adding AnswerTips to a site only takes "30 seconds. That's my favorite part of the whole thing. When we tested it in-house, we set up a number of blogs and plopped it in. You just copy a snippet of code, open a template, and hit save."
Some users may find the feature so delightful that they want it on all their applications. No problem. Answers.com has had the 1-Click Answers software available for Windows and Mac OS X for some time. It will work with all desktop applications, including browsers. A Firefox extension is also available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Among the initial reactions to the feature, some users have complained that the double-click used by AnswerTips interferes with the highlighting process a double-click "normally" enables. For such discomfited users, the 1-Click Answers software should eliminate the problem, according to Bailey. The 1-Click Answers software uses the more unique Alt-click to initiate a search.
Answers.com has also begun integrating content throughout its main site from the user-generated content in its WikiAnswers service, which it acquired when it took over FAQ Farm. Users can go directly to WikiAnswers.com (http://wiki.answers.com) and submit questions or scan existing answers. From the 320,000-plus questions and answers in the service supplied by more than 135,000 contributors, more than 200,000 of the better answers have merged with the main Answers.com content collection, joining the licensed reference titles from established publishers and quality Web sites. According to Bruce Smith, vice president of strategic development at Answers.com, the selection process identifying quality answers focuses on "mature or complete answers, editorial length, number of edits, and other criteria."
The integration of WikiAnswers content should not, however, affect AnswerTips, according to Smith. "WikiAnswers are very different. They are more complex questions; AnswerTips is more word and phrase. WikiAnswers has lengthier answers than AnswerTips." However, he did indicate that they are exploring the possibility of using the WikiAnswers technology for building dictionaries and glossaries in cooperation with bloggers. If that happens, WikiAnswers might start to feed content to AnswerTips.
Initial reactions to the new feature came from the bloggers using it. As expected, the bloggers who have chosen to implement the feature like it. Users' comments on the feature are generally positive, but they do have some complaints. The bloggers and their readers have already begun providing an explosion of suggestions on how to improve the service. Bailey described the experience for Answers.com as like having an ideal focus group.
One of the main problems recognized by all is how to alert people to the feature's availability. A simple icon on a site doesn't exactly leap out, particularly to the ad-weary, glazed-over eyes of most Web users. Bailey too recognized this as an ongoing concern. Other suggestions include opening the bubbles up to handle content supplied by the blogger or Webmaster or at least to allow users to restrict content to specific sources. For example, an academic library Webmaster might want students to see only published reference titles. At this point, Bailey said that AnswerTips is only "generic. We are looking at a user preferences option, where users could at least decide which comes up first, for example, a thesaurus over an encyclopedia or a dictionary." According to Bailey, the company had tried providing an enterprise version of its product in the past and had found it so difficult to manage that it switched to its current consumer-oriented, centralized approach.
Commenting on the desirability of AnswerTips for Web publishers and bloggers, John Blossom of Shore Communications noted, "Embedded tool users need to be careful about how they manage their own brands with a branded embed, but the preponderance of direct endorsements through blogrolls, social bookmarking links and other services makes the wise selection of tools such as AnswerTips a reasonable and productive tip for many publishers. In a world where the user is the ultimate aggregator, it pays to play nice with free—need we remind you—content partners."
As to the advantage of offering this free service, Bailey said that it fits Answers.com's strategy of "leveraging content we already have. AnswerTips has two primary purposes; [the] first [is] to spread the word on Answers.com with good branding and exposure. Second, we anticipate that once we give people the snippet of information for a short answer, they will want more and click on the ‘More' button that takes them to our site. Right now we have no advertising in AnswerTips, except on the CBS site with an ad on the bottom, but we may have advertising in the future."