I had my friend Stephen over earlier and whilst enjoying the indian summer this afternoon we discussed a number of things including social search products like Yahoo! Answers and Lycos IQ.The key problem that these services have is managing the quality of their product as their community expands.
A second problem they face is how much should advertisers pay to access these customers.
Ok, in order to ask questions you have to have points, which you gain from answering other questions. This is to try and prevent frivolous use by spammers and encourage repeated visits and thus a habit-formed behaviour.
By its nature, taking the time to answer questions and build up a battery of points to answer questions implies a certain level of spare time, which usually goes hand in hand with a corresponding lack of user intent and economic power: security guards, call centre workers, receptionists, students, children, pensioners and housewives to name some examples.
Will advertisers pay proportionately less for lower-quality leads than the high-user intent consumers with more economic power they can reach on Google?
In addition, Wired News had details of an interesting and well-funded public website called dropping knowledge that could do for social search what Wikipedia did for online reference content providers including the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Worst case scenario, the media companies will make a market for social search and then be usurped by community sites and left with a less attractive demographic of users.