Avanoo, a site that aims to tap into the “wisdom of communities” to offer answers to your questions about life, is officially launching today.
Avanoo appears to want to go deeper. Its idea builds on the “Wisdom of Crowds” theory, laid out in James Surowiecki’s book of the same name. For those who haven’t encountered it, the “Wisdom of Crowds” posits that the collective opinions of the many are more likely to be accurate than those of any expert.
However, Avanoo’s founders, Dan Jacobs and Jeff “Wilford” Vander Clute, say the Wisdom of Crowds, currently embodied on sites like Digg and Reddit, often represents the wisdom of a dominant social group and its sometimes mindless followers. Avanoo is designed to break down big crowds into discrete communities, along demographic lines. By doing so, Avanoo hopes to enable people to find opinions from the perspective they share.
Dan and Jeff, who are based in Venice, CA, have spent the last year stealth mode, developing a site and technology designed to ask any number of questions, capture the answers from any number of perspectives, and deliver results on demand. Today they are launching a wildly ambitious marketing campaign: 100 million opinions in 100 days. While this goal is pure madness, the world could have a pretty interesting resource for fun and research if it went according to plan.
The site offers questions ranging from “Do you think Global Warming will threaten your way of life in your lifetime?” to “Which of the following acts do you consider cheating?” and everything in between. Each question has a set number of possible responses, and selecting your answer enables you to see the cumulative results. To get demographic information, Avanoo offers an exchange: If you want to see what people from a certain race think about a certain topic, it asks that you for your race. Same goes for age, gender, and income level. Nowhere does it ask your name. Right now, however, the categorizations are limited. The only options under occupation, for example, are “student” and “professional.”
Ananoo’s concept is compelling: If I could ask a large and diverse set of users what they thought I should get my girlfriend for Valentine’s Day and then filter the results to find out how moderate mid-twenty-something female New Yorkers responded, that’d be pretty cool. In general, the opinions of groups of people that share my perspective, or who have perspectives I admire, are more useful to me than those of, say, deeply religious 60-plus-year-old Dallas natives who are afraid of their toasters, but I might like to know what they think, too.
But therein lies one of a number of rubs. The chances that a meaningful number of 60-plus-year-old Texan luddites will sign on to Avanoo anytime soon are slim, and the same is probably true across number of lower-income demographics. What’s more, until Avanoo reaches critical mass, its results are all but worthless, and even then, because people can easily lie about their info, statisticians will probably consider them suspect.
There is also the problem of spam. Right now, Avanoo moderates submitted questions, but its founders know that this method cannot scale. Avanoo hopes that a passionate community of administrative users, a la Wikipedia, will emerge to help keep the site clean, but hasn’t figured out exactly how this will work.
None of this means it’s doomed to failure, and Dan and Jeff convinced some notable angels otherwise. In April of 2006, they raised $400,000 from Morten Lund, an early investor in Skype, Jeff Bader, VP of Entertainment at ABC, and Sam Bronfman, of Bronfman family fame.
If it actually achieves its goals, brings on some professional statisticians to iron out the questions and possible responses, and attracts a numerous and diverse range of users — even if it takes a bit longer than 100 days — Avanoo has a shot at becoming much more than a fun idea.