If you spend any time at all on Twitter, you’ve probably asked your followers (and by extension, their followers) a question or two from time to time — even something as simple as what they thought of the latest movie, or whether you should try out a new video game. When it comes to real-time responses from your social graph, the Twitter network has a lot going for it that even Facebook can’t duplicate. And it looks like the company is planning to do more to support that kind of feature, judging by its latest acquisition: a question-and-answer startup called Fluther, which Twitter said today it bought for an undisclosed sum.
Twitter isn’t buying the actual Fluther service, however. The startup said on its blog that the service (which gets its name from the term for a group of jellyfish) will continue to operate — although the team that built it won’t be putting any more resources into it, since they are all joining Twitter. But the purchase is more than just a “talent acquisition” or “acq-hire,” according to the Twitter blog post about the deal. The company says Twitter was impressed by the Fluther team’s technical talent and entrepreneurial spirit, but also by “the thinking behind the question-and-answer product they’ve spent the last couple of years building.” Fluther was seed funded by a group of angels including Ron Conway and Marc Andreessen, and Twitter founder Biz Stone was an advisor to the company.
The Q&A space has been heating up over the past year or so, thanks in large part to the success of sites such as Quora and StackOverflow, both of which have gotten a lot of attention for their thriving communities. Similar question-and-answer services have been the subject of acquisitions by Google — which bought Aardvark — and Facebook, which bought the FriendFeed social network, a service started by former Googlers that had a large question-and-answer component to it. Other attempts to go after a similar market include Formspring, Peerpong and Kommons, the latter of which was started as a way to ask prominent people public questions.
Some question-and-answer sites — such as Hunch.com, which was founded by angel investor Chris Dixon and Flickr founder Caterina Fake — have shifted their focus away from Q&A and towards becoming a recommendation engine or network. The impetus for both kinds of services is fundamentally the same: namely, the reality that a simple web search is in many cases not the best way to get valuable opinions or information, and certainly not in real-time. Instead, recommendations from those who share our social graph in some way are often superior — a reality Google is still struggling to deal with, and one of the reasons why it needs to be afraid of Facebook, as we’ve pointed out before (sub req’d). Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz recently admitted the company is more afraid of Facebook than it is of Google, in part because social search is a growing threat.
What Twitter eventually does to support the question-and-answer nature of its network remains to be seen, but enabling that behavior could be one of the most powerful features of the network going forward.
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