Ask.com noticed some interesting behavior happening on its Q&A iPhone application. People were trying to have “conversations” in the comments area of the app, according to Ask’s Jason Rupp. Much of that chat activity was focused on particular locations.
But Ask’s Q&A app wasn’t intended to support full-blown conversations. Cut to several months later and, just in time for the SXSW conference, Ask is launching a new app focused on local conversations. It’s called Ask Around.
Location awareness on the phone immediately puts people into the middle of a local conversation. All comments are public by default so you chat with people around you, whether you know them or not. The geographic radius of the conversation can be adjusted by a slider on the app, up to 15 miles. So you can see what’s being said immediately around you or more broadly on the metro level.
People outside the designated area cannot participate directly in conversations but they can “listen” in on conversations wherever they may be happening. For example, you could be in LA and listen to conversations happening at or around the Metropolitan Museum of Art or at a particular event or in Manhattan more broadly. This is one of the most intriguing dimensions of the user experience.
There are obvious parallels here to Twitter and group chat applications. But the Ask app is specifically designed for conversations around specific places (yobongo is another that does this). The app also allows users to save locations and then come back and later follow conversations in a particular area.
You don’t follow people, you follow places.
Ask said that it isn’t monetizing the app in any way at this point, just “putting it out there” to see whether and how people interact with it. If it doesn’t fly Ask will retire the app. However there’s also a possibility that the company could have a real hit on its hands.