Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another division of labor

Knowledge Generation Bureau (yep, KGB) has been around for a while now, but their latest TV campaign has been visible enough that even I caught it. When you've got the Baldwin brothers working for you, all things are possible.

There are a few key differences in between KGB and the various web-based search engines:
  1. KGB is phone-friendly. You text them a question -- any question. They send an answer in concise English, not a list of links.
  2. KGB is only semi-automated. Typically, there will be an actual person involved at some point in producing your answer.
  3. KGB charges $0.99 per question.
Item 1 clearly distinguishes KGB from search engines, regardless of how the answers are found. A list of links just isn't a great fit for a phone, even a recent-vintage smart phone. The promise of answering any question also separates them from a text-based interface to a search engine. Item 3 separates KGB from the various ad-supported answers pages (and from vanilla search engines). Given that, and the longevity of all three flavors so far, I doubt that any is going to supplant the others. Sometimes a quick list of links is the right thing -- particularly if you don't know exactly what you're looking for -- sometimes text Q&A is good enough to pay for, and sometimes you're just curious and might rather wait for a horde of strangers to ponder your question.

What originally prompted me to post, however, was item 2. Clearly, KGB must have a well-developed database to help answer routine questions quickly [or ... perhaps they use one of the major search engines? -- D.H. Dec 2015], and I'd assume their business model depends heavily on being able to answer most questions with little or no human involvement. But to be able to deliver coherent answers to arbitrary plain English questions quickly and accurately, there has to be a human in the loop at some point. The trick is to tilt the balance as heavily as possible toward the machine. Another effort along those lines is Pandora, which relies on humans for perception and (some) judgment, but leaves the heavy lifting to the machines.

I'm not really inclined to shell out 13 bucks to try out the baker's dozen on KGB, but the results might be interesting.

[As of May 2015, KGB seems to still be going strong.  Their home page seems to give answers for free, but with ads, but their phone service still charges --D.H.]

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