Congrats, Rocket Lawyer, on the LawPivot Acquisition

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Rocket Lawyer, the do it yourself legal document creation tool site, has just announced its purchase of LawPivot, the Quora Q&A site for legal advice. Seems a decent match. Rocket Lawyer leverages the mindset of the new Web – the belief  that anyone can leverage web-based information and tools to accomplish whatever the task at hand, in this case legal document drafting. Rocket Lawyer also taps into attraction of  a la carte legal services – when the drafting process gets onerous, Rocket Lawyer will connect you with legal counsel to help you with the details. However, the cost of admission to the document generating process is free. Rocket Lawyer is all about improving access and simplifying the process in an affordable way. For lawyers, Rocket Lawyer offers a place to build a profile and means to connect with clients who need more assistance than the free legal forms generator can provide.

LawPivot, on the other hand, takes a slightly different approach to matching lawyers with potential clients. Over 2,300 lawyers in 37 states, to be precise. Site visitors can ask confidential legal questions on the site. Attorneys will then message the visitors back with legal advice. Users can ask unlimited, free, follow up questions. LawPivot can assist with questions on corporate, intellectual property, contracts, employment, tax, and immigration law, among other areas. Like Rocket Lawyer, the lawyers on LawPivot can create profiles to provide some background to site visitors about the lawyer’s competencies. LawPivot also attempts to connect users with lawyers who are best suited to answer the particular question. The more a user interacts with LawPivot, the better the site can track usage trends and improve matching of lawyers and potential clients.

I definitely see the overlap between these two sites and it seems to me that a purchase / merger makes a great deal of sense. Between forms generation and Q&A legal advice for discrete legal questions, the combination of Rocket Lawyer and LawPivot can cover a great deal of legal need with agile on-line tools. It appears that Rocket Lawyer will build LawPivot into the Rocket Lawyer experience. It will certainly be interesting to see the end result of this marriage. Best of luck to both businesses in reforming the practice of law.

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Google Is Getting Real With Realtime

Google added a Realtime search option in the left-hand sidebar a while ago. Click on Realtime, and your search result will show updates on the topic in, well, realtime. It’s actually kind of nifty – new results scroll up automatically and you can adjust the timeframe of the updates using the graph in the right sidebar.

While the tool has always been cool, the results have been, well, kind of meh, given that the only source for the realtime data was Twitter.

But now, Google Realtime has gotten a lot cooler. It is now including updates from Quora and Gowalla, as well as Facebook and Google Buzz.  The more realtime services added to the Google mix, the better the overall result, in my book. Chances are, you will get a wider variety of content, assuming that not everyone tweets everything of interest on a given subject. Quora, for example, seems to attract a different type of user and a different calibre of answer.

As any good researcher will tell you, the more diverse the sources you tap for your search, the more global the overall result. Thanks Google, for making realtime a heck of a lot more relevant and useful for me.

Question? Hit Up The Q&A Sites!

Question: What is the value of question and answer sites for professionals or anyone in search of information? Answer: One-stop shopping for targeted, expert and/or crowd-sourced information on a particular topic, if you are lucky enough to find your topic featured on the site or an expert willing to answer. Also, in some instance, a place to exercise your writing muscles and showcase your skills.

I have touched on question and answer site Quora here in the Studio, but it isn’t the only player out there. Have you ever checked out Answers.com? An early entrant into the ask & ye shall receive group of online communities, Answers.com gets up to 40 million visitors per month. It has been around for six years, pulls information from editorial, dictionary and encyclopedic sources, and offers easy searchability for answers and the ability to ask opinion-based questions. Answers is apparently working on a reputation-based algorithm that hopes to push the best material to the top of the pile, improving results with a weighted system premised on reliability. Access Answers.com on the go on your iPhone. with its own mobile iOS app.

If you like to dance, check out ChaCha. ChaCha is aiming for the mobile crowd – text CHACHA,  242242, and get back what is touted to be a relevant, accurate answer within a minute or so. ChaCha also offers the ability to ask your question online, but the real meat of the service is the on-the-go mobile option. Interestingly, the results either come from a search query, or are facilitated by either an “expediter” or a search “specialist” who will fine tune your query to improve results. Obviously, phrasing is important when your query gets shuttled to different “facilitators.” Nonetheless, it seems to work much of the time. Consider ChaCha your 411 service for data on the go.

StackExchange is another interesting option, providing quality content across 42 different sites or “stacks” as they refer to them. The sites are subject-matter specific, and are premised on “expert” content, so the quality of your answer should improve accordingly, if it fits within one of the stacks, or verticals. There is a community, which can impact both the quality within a stack and inclusion of new stacks.

Or, check out Ask.com, formerly known back in the day as AskJeeves. It’s really popular – hovering around 60 million visitors per month. At its heart, it is a search engine tuned to answering questions, but it also offers an “ask the community” option for a more personalized, targetted result. The “ask the community” feature is relatively new and isn’t openly available to everyone yet. Clearly Ask is looking to capitalize on the Quora factor and hopefully will be rolling this out on a more widespread basis soon.

I have ,in the past, been a huge fan of Ardvark, but have had trouble accessing the site effectively on mobile since Google purchased it back a year ago or so. I still think it is a cool option for getting good information fast – it is premised on a messenger-style method of questioning, with the service then routing the question to subject-matter experts within the community (I put myself in as an “expert” on tech, music, illustration, soccer, and law) and those experts then choosing to answer the question directly by messenger back to the person posing it. I got good results when I was able to get the site to work – quality answers within minutes to hours. I think it is time for me to try it out again – I love the crowdsourced social aspects of the site and its mobile application.

There is, of course, the current starlet of the crop, Quora. Quora is definitely popular with the technorati, as well as the journalists who cover that group. With that in mind, your best content will come from questions that touch on those areas, although I find some conversation on law-related topics as well. What makes Quora appealing is the involvment of some high profile people – when someone writes a question about, say, Instagram, there is a very good chance that one of the answers will come from Instagram’s founder. Community members can then vote answers up or down, resulting in crowd-sourced quality control. While the system is not flawless (I have had answers downvoted anonymously and inexplicably), it does tend to promote the rising of cream to the top of the cup. People clearly put a lot of thought and effort into their answers, and it shows. If you can get your question out there with some visibility, chances are you are going to get something of value in return. While I haven’t used the service in this manner, it is possible to direct-question a user through Quora’s messaging tool. Social media sharing tools do help to give your question visibility, but Quora has a ways to go before it can be considered a general purpose, community-powered wiki.

LinkedIn Answers also harnesses the power of community to respond to questions and build a knowledge base for LinkedIn’s professional user group. More organic than organized, the tool is designed to allow “domain experts” to share knowledge and produce insightful answers that will assist other users, with results scattered throughout LinkedIn’s ecosystem.  Questions generally run the gamut between knowledge, experience and opinion, and are easy to enter — simply type in your question, select the appropriate category to place it under and it will appear. You also can send questions by email to connections. Questions show up in multiple places on LinkedIn – listed under the Answers tab, on your profile, on the HomePage of your connections and, in email if you send it that way. LinkedIn Answers also allows users to showcase their knowledge and interests by answering the questions. These answers become part of your profile. Find existing answers under the Answers tab either by new questions from your network or by category or via advanced answers search. Click the question and see all the answers on a separate page.

Finally, another option, albeit perhaps not the strongest for professional purposes, is Formspring. This question-and-answer-based social website allows its users to set up a profile page, from which anyone can ask them questions. The questions and their given responses are then published on the user’s profile page. Questions can be asked with a user’s name hidden, or sent from another Formspring account. You can choose to disallow anonymous questions and can block people from asking further questions. There is social linking to Facebook, Twitter and Blogger. I include it here simply because it does qualify as a Q&A site, but it really doesn’t fit the profile of the other sites – Formspring clearly is targeted at social knowledge and personal interests, rather than the development of a professional knowledge-base or tapping expertise.

Given that people visit the Web for answers, Q&A sites seem a natural fit and their popularity proves this. If your purpose is to find good information fast and power-up your research, these sites offer a different angle on results. If your purpose is to gain respect as a subject matter expert, these sites can catalyze that process – the communities are clearly there for answers and the best answers, an in turn, users, are promoted. Consider these sites as additional tools to learn and promote, whether your subject is law or French cooking.

Extra Cool Extension for Business Research

What do you do when you want to find out everything you can about a particular company, business, or professional? Well, you can search Google for the business and then visit each site individually and cull the pertinent information. Chances are there will be hits at the top of the results list from Crunchbase, LinkedIn, and Quora.

But … what if you could visit a business web page, click a button, and instantly pull up information from all three of these top business information sources? Well, you can if you use Google Chrome as your browser. Brand new extension Polaris Insights will enable the magic. The CrunchBase column includes  funding information, the LinkedIn column includes your connections within the company, and the Quora column lists some of the Q&A conversations about the company.

Polaris Insights is Chrome only for now, but a Firefox extension appears to be in the works. Great tool for business research and blogging!

Quora Is Where It's At

Getting good information is the point, right? That is why we troll the Web, after all. When we are not connecting, of course. It helps if you can get a nice helping of intelligent conversation on the side. There is a lot of muck on the big sites, partially because they seem to be trying to be all things to all people or don’t offer effective enough filters. To me, the best filter is the human filter – find the smart people and read what they have to say and view what they have to share. And maybe even talk to them.

Quora has all the makings of a very smart social service. It has been around for a year or so, but seems to be picking up quite a bit of steam of late. At its core, it is a collection of questions and related answers. From their own description:

Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.
One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: “Oh, great! That’s going to have all the information I want about that.” It’s also a place where new stuff–that no one has written about yet–can get pulled onto the web.

What it is functionally becoming is a high quality social network with a focus on value-laden information transfer. Community-edited and almost Wiki-like, but with much greater fluidity via a news stream of content of the most interest to you, Quora is very exciting indeed. People can vote up answers or hide answers they believe are not helpful, offering the person originally answering an opportunity to hone the answer to better fit. This community “policing”, if you will, encourages higher quality responses and, in turn, more effective information for all users. Quora has a sharper edge than a traditional wiki in that it focuses on questions rather than general research topics. And, so far, it appears to have a very dynamic community ready to rate up or down answers, which helps assure me, at least, that the answers might be more reliable. A far more dynamic community than, say, Wikipedia, for example.

It also helps that some very smart people are using the site. I frequently see answers by the usual suspects in tech journalism, which is not surprising for a cool new tool. What I am not so used to seeing is participation by founders, programmers, entrepreneurs and top business sorts. The kind of people you might want to interact with. I am also starting to see lawyers, which is very exciting to me. A site with such broad-appeal and the endorsement of the tech elite seems to have more than half a chance at survival.

For professionals, the opportunity to ask and answer  questions is a our bread and butter – look at the lawyers all over LinkedIn Groups and the  legal questions and answers there. Quora has some of that element to it, but you won’t be able to get away with a half-hearted answer – be prepared to come prepared. I have seen a few legally-minded discussions on the site and I imagine that it’s just the beginning.

For content consumers, the community does the work for you – the best answers are pushed to the top and the bad stuff is hidden from view. In theory, anyway, community wisdom should serve as a most effective filter.

How do I get started? you ask. Select some topics of interest on the site and follow them. Then browse questions in those topics and answer any you feel comfortable answering. Questions have pages, comprised of answers, which can be voted up or down by you, if warranted. And, of course, being that its social, find your peeps (via Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc.). And watch the good times roll.