Even though it's been in beta for nearly a year now, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) officially launched Askville.com last week.
If Askville rings a bell, it's because we've been writing about it since last year's debut. If the model itself is familiar, perhaps you've been watching Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO ) success with the very similar Yahoo! Answers platform.
The similarities are undeniable. Registered users post questions, other members chime in, and the top answer is rewarded points.
The difference here is that Amazon's an e-tailer at heart. It's got stuff to sell, and it has no problem giving its star members points that can be exchanged for branded mugs, t-shirts, and even actual Amazon gift certificates.
You also can hear that heart skip a beat whenever someone takes Askville up on its "recommended" widget, which allows responding members to tack on related products from the Amazon storefront. This is the kind of crass commercialization that would send folks flying to the exits, if not for the fact that Amazon handles it tastefully and seamlessly.
So what can Askville users expect now that the site is official? Well, it's still a work in progress. A year ago, Askville teased community members with the promise of Questville, where users could exchange gold coins for online games and adventures.
Don't hop on a plane to Questville anytime soon. The interactive sister site is now delayed, touting a late 2008 opening instead.
Amazon isn't hoping that Amazon product widgets alone will turn Askville residents into a profitable citizenry. The site is also populated with targeted Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) AdSense ads that deliver relevant text ads in the different categories.
Besides, Amazon has a respectable track record in building community sites. I'm not just talking about its namesake site, which is now brimming with discussion boards on different product pages, expanding the Web 2.0 magnetism that is has offered for years through customer reviews and product lists. No, Amazon also owns sites like film-buff hotbed IMDB.com and Web traffic tracker Alexa.com.
So, at the end of the day, Askville is just another appendage in a growing Web empire -- an appendage that's itching to send you right back to Amazon.com's storefront to get you shopping.
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