The Last Train to Askville

If there is one thing that Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) knows, it's that it has got a pretty opinionated customer base. The leading e-tailer has used that to its advantage in the past by tapping its customer base to provide free product reviews, products lists, and more recently discussion board postings.

Amazon's customers tend to be the answer to many of the company's questions, so now it's only logical that it should turn to them to start providing the questions, too.

Welcome to Askville. Population? One hungry online retailer with a voracious appetite for Web 2.0. This month, Amazon has been inviting registered users to kick the tires of its Askville question site, where they post questions and take their turns in answering others.

The concept isn't original. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) has the top dog here in Yahoo! Answers, and part of the new Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Live search engine strategy is to make the site sticky with its similar QnA offering.

The fact that Amazon is using a point system to reward those who ask, respond, and vote on the best answers also isn't breaking any new ground here. That's par for the course in this niche. However, Amazon is taking a clever turn in trying to monetize the site by allowing answerers to plug in widgets that include the ability to incorporate existing Amazon store products into the answer. Showing Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) some love, other widgets include the ability to map a destination on Google Maps or point to a YouTube or Google Video within the frame of the response.

Google getting in on the action is ironic because it recently shuttered its own Google Answers site.

Another area where Amazon has the potential of blowing away the established competition lies in a town that resides next to Askville. Questville.com isn't up yet. All that you will find is a landing page promising a beta launch come 2007. However, the point system that Amazon is using is based on something called Quest Coins and that will give users the ability to use that currency to "participate in exciting new adventures and other cool things" in Questville next year.

Are we talking about virtual items or access to online games? We'll see. It's unlikely that Amazon will be the home to the next Second Life or Warcraft, yet do keep tabs on Askville as you drive on through next time because there appears to be a healthy deal of traffic at the site, and a sticky winner can go a long way toward helping Amazon make a bigger splash in cyberspace.

Amazon and Yahoo! have been recommended toMotley Fool Stock Advisornewsletter subscribers. Microsoft is anInside Valuestock selection.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been shopping online for about as long as Amazon.com has been in business but he rarely has all of the answers. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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