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The tech support of the crowds: Qunu

The tech support of the crowds: Qunu

In my experience, the best technical support on any product will come from somebody who actually uses and likes the product, not a paid support rep following a script. That's why people use open message boards. Message boards have always amazed me, though, because so many people are willing to chip in and help people they don't know. But they work, and whatever the topic you need help with, there's almost certainly a group of people online willing to lend their earnest advice.

If you can't wait for a response in a message board, you can try a new service, Qunu, which is trying to replicate the message board community spirit but in real time. Qunu connects you via instant message to an expert on the topic you need help with.

Qunu experts register themselves and tell the system what they know about. People who need help select a topic, and the system then connects the two people via IM.

At the moment the system is used mostly by programmers and other geeks, partly because experts on Qunu have to use a Jabber-compatible chat client. (Help seekers don't need a chat client at all--they communicate via the Qunu Web site.) The system should expand over time. Support for more popular chat networks, such as AOL's, is forthcoming, and this may pull in experts from other fields. Integration with voice chat and video may be added, too.

Qunu is free, but it's clear that connecting people who need advice to experts could generate revenue. Like Ether, Qunu can expose consultants and service providers to their potential customers. Cofounder Helmar Rudolph told me he is setting up a "pro zone" on Qunu for experts who want to sell their advice instead of giving it away.

Maintaining the quality of the community of experts is going to be key to Qunu's success, and Rudolph told me that Qunu already has a reputation system, it's just not visible to users yet. Not only will it put at the top of lists experts who are the are most responsive and receive the best ratings, but it will also temporarily suppress the display of experts who answer a disproportionate number of queries so that everybody gets a chance to participate.

Qunu is a great idea. We already know that crowds are wise. They're altruistic and they love to talk, too. Qunu harnesses that.