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ANSWERED on Sat 5 May 2007 - 3:59 pm UTC by Roger Browne

Question: Uclue itself

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 4 May 2007 22:18 UTCFri 4 May 2007 - 10:18 pm UTC 

Hello Uclue. In the short time you've been around, I've come to enjoy reading the questions and answers here, and even venturing forth with a few of my own. 

For the moment, my question is:  What can you tell me about Uclue's business model?

I don't mean that in a formal way, and I'm not expecting elaborate powerpoint slides and such, especially not for ten bucks.  But in a short and simple way, what makes you think that a service like Uclue can be financially successful? 

I've been surprised at my own willingness to spend some of my own money here (paltry amounts, I know, but I do what I can), The quality of the answers clearly makes it worth it for me, but with funds running low, I'm sometimes tempted to give Yahoo Answers a go. 

But my spending habits aside, I can't help noticing that Uclue question volume hasn't quite blossomed, to put it gently, and it's hard to know when, or if, it's likely to increase.

I'm not terribly familiar with the financial history of Google Answers, but I know that it went under after a couple of years. 

So, what makes Uclue think it can outlive Google?

I'm not looking for anything secret, terribly deep, or definitive.  Just a brief but informed,opinion of one (or more) of the Ucluer's would do very nicely as an answer.

Thanks.  And best of luck in building a thriving business.


P.S.  The Uclue fan club, of which there seems to be several members at least, is invited to comment as well.




 5 May 2007 01:48 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 1:48 am UTC 

Hi NH,

I was going to say the same thing but Pink beat me to it. :-)

Yes, I agree that Roger should post the official answer to this one.

Here's my take on some of your questions:

"What can you tell me about Uclue's business model?" -- reserved for Roger.

"But in a short and simple way, what makes you think that a service like Uclue can be financially successful? / So, what makes Uclue think it can outlive Google?" -- Simple answer: there will always be people who will pay to get quality answers, not mere opinions and Uclue will succeed due that need - period. The fact that you have posted several questions here on Uclue, gave high ratings and tips is your own personal proof that the answers you got are truly quality answers and you are satisfied. That explains why you are willing to spend money on this service and that is why Uclue will succeed. :-)

If you are a reputable company or a person working for a reputable company seeking a reliable, quality answer, will you take answers from a free answers service to use in order to make a reliable/authoritative report?

Although one can get answers from a free answers service the quality of the answer is determined by the asker. As more and more people are noticing, many of the answers to a question in a free answers service doesn't really answer the question and the asker is left to choose the "best" answer. Now picture this, what if you really don't know the answer, how will you determine the "best" answer?

In a paid answers service such as Uclue, the researcher who is answering your question makes sure that the answer you are going to get is a quality answer taken from reliable sources. Take note, SOURCES not source. Sometimes an answer may be derived from a researcher's personal experience because he or she truly is knowledgeable about the subject but it will still be backed up with other sources of information.

"But with funds running low, I'm sometimes tempted to give Yahoo Answers a go." -- Try it if you want so you can compare.

"I can't help noticing that Uclue question volume hasn't quite blossomed" -- That's because Uclue is still just a new name in this fairly old online paid answers game (Oh I made a rhyme, I made a rhyme!)

As my colleague Nancy said (although she said she's tempted but she already said it anyway :D) GA was not a financial loser. How can it lose? What does a multi-billion dollar company have to lose by retiring a service such as GA? Think about it. On the other hand, the people behind Uclue, the Ex-GARs now turned URs, have a lot to lose - our hobby, passion, camaraderie, etc. But although for now we seem to be struggling against the tide, for us URs, that is what makes this service challenging and worthwile.

URs (Yours)




 5 May 2007 02:07 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 2:07 am UTC 

Richard/feilong (which should I call you?).

Thanks.  I think. 

The part of your comments that I understood were very insightful, and I appreciate them.

But you seem to be making reference to a number of other comments, or perhaps to earlier questions, or something.  I'm actually rather confused as to what you mean with remarks like "Pink beat me to it".

But whatever it means, I appreciate hearing from you.  I was beginning to wonder if anyone was going to respond to this.

I suppose it's true what they say, Money Talks.  Ten dollars is just a whisper, I guess.





 5 May 2007 04:13 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 4:13 am UTC 

Hi NH,

My apologies for confusing you. I was chatting to a friend while I was making my comment early in the morning. My mind was probably half asleep and I have erroneously typed some words into Uclue's comment box that I should have typed to my friend's IM. I even mistyped "What does a multi-billion dollar company have to lose by retiring a service such as GA?" when I actually intended to say "What will a multi-billion dollar company lose by retiring a service such as GA?"

I am now convinced that it's time for me to increase my caffeine intake in the morning. :-)

Anyway, thanks for appreciating our service. Please don't worry about your question. Others will respond and you'll get your answer. My previous response and this one are just my thoughts regarding your question.

Btw, you can call me by my handle, "Feilong" or by my name, "Richard". Whichever, is fine for me.





 5 May 2007 06:14 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 6:14 am UTC 

Yesterday, I had a drink with an old friend. Me: Lemonade; She: Cappucino - Whatever that is: it looked HORRIBLE.

She told me that she had searched the Internet for something or other without success and asked my advice. I responded by giving her the web address of uclue and outlined its service.

She was suitably impressed and she said she would give it a go.

I then asked if she had a PayPal account. She hadn't so I explained that and also how to sign up.

But I noticed an immediate cooling of her interest ...

Evidently, her fear of Internet Fraud loomed greater than her wish to locate the product.

In my experience, many Internet users are loathe to purchase ANYTHING that requires an Internet-based payment system.

Solve that and Hey Presto the World is Your Oyster!

Uclue's Self-appointed but so far Unsuccessful UK Salesman (Unpaid)




 5 May 2007 10:56 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 10:56 am UTC 

Some time ago I asked a similar question on Google Answers

It got 'pulled' - it mysteriously disappeared.

Actually I already knew the answer, a few calculations on the back of an envelope were sufficient.

In conventional terms it is extremely unlikely that a paid Answers service could be financially viable. The initial programming costs should not be too bad, and can be offset as a showcase for other bespoke work. (IMO this is an excellent showcase).  The cost of webspace should be trivial - but full time salaries are high.

Against that, Google Answers attracted a highly talented and diverse body of researchers (and some peanut chuckers like me) it was too good to die.

My view is that provided adminstrative costs are kept low, then eventual viability will turn up through a benign effect of 'The Law of Unexpected Consequences'.

There is definitely a demand for professional paid research, it is obviously a lot lower than the demand for unpaid answers, but in this case I would say that UClue is a bit like a lifeboat preserving a useful resource - true financial viability will come from an unexpected direction.  IMO and IME the best business models are those that look as if they are doing one thing, but really doing something else.


Roger Browne 


 5 May 2007 15:59 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 3:59 pm UTC 

Hi needhelp,

You've touched on quite a few issues that are "close to our hearts". I'll address some of them here, and I'm sure that some of the other researchers and our dear "peanuts" will have more to add in the comments.

> What can you tell me about Uclue's business model?

The business model can be succinctly expressed using a format that was common during the dot-com bubble [1]:

   1. Create a website
   2. Sign up a bunch of talented researchers
   3. ???
   4. Profit!

In the case of Uclue, the missing step is of course:

   3. Have lots of customers posting answerable questions

We're in this for the long term, and are not expecting some kind of instant explosive growth - Uclue may not have the right kind of "coolness factor" for that. Nevertheless, it's a sound business model and the business can be grown organically over time. It's not excessively expensive to run in the meantime.

> ... what makes you think that a service like Uclue can be
> financially successful?

The financial basis for the business is straightforward. The income comes from question fees and tips. A few percent are lost due to payment processing costs. Of the remainder, 100% of tips and 75% of question fees goes to the researchers, and 25% of question fees goes to the service where it pays for hosting, software development, software maintenance, administration, marketing, legal expenses, etc.

Apart from software development, the other costs are roughly proportional to question volume. Therefore, in the long term once the software development costs are amortized, the business is financially sustainable at any size - large or small.

> I can't help noticing that Uclue question volume hasn't quite
> blossomed

It would be great to have higher question volume, of course, and it is disappointing for researchers when we have the occasional day without any new questions.

But actually I'm delighted that the question volume is as high as it is, for a business in its early phases. Not only do we have a steady stream of questions from new and returning customers, but we also have a great variety of high-quality, interesting questions. It's a great basis from which to build up to the next level.

Consider that probably under a hundred thousand people have heard of Uclue, from which our current customers are drawn. Now suppose that over time several million people can be exposed to Uclue - there will certainly be plenty of future customers amongst those people.

Now let's look at how things might have been if the beta launch had not gone so well. We might have had zero paid questions, as in the case of WuyaSea Advice, a similar website that also recently launched:

   WuyaSea Advice

I have great respect and sympathy for WuyaSea's founder, "dorren", who ascribes his site's failure to thrive to just one factor: that it allows users to choose between asking for free and paying for a (better, faster) answer. As he says belatedly, "why would people pay to ask question if you can ask for free?":

   "What's the difference between all these answering services?"

Back to Uclue, how is question volume going to grow in the future? Well, we do have an advertising budget. We have experimented with AdWords and YPN advertisements, without spectacular success possibly due to being unable to get approval for the keywords that we wanted to target. We will try other advertising opportunities in the future, and repeat those that work best.

We also depend on guerilla marketing. If you want to see Uclue grow, spread the word! Tell the world about it! We have a graphic that supporters can put on their websites to promote Uclue, and we will soon be adding more promotional material such as a printable poster:

   "Spread The Word!"

As more questions are answered at Uclue, our questions and answers will feature more often in organic search engine results. Because Uclue's pages are content rich, they seem to be appearing quite high in search engine results.

Finally, here are a few statistics that may interest you: the site has 566 registered users who have posted 325 questions, of which 252 (78%) have been answered.



[1] The Gnomes' business plan


Roger Browne 


 5 May 2007 16:22 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 4:22 pm UTC 

Hi Bryan,

As you say, some people just won't use PayPal (just as some people just won't drink cappuccino).

In time we hope to offer other payment options, but it's surprisingly difficult for a new business with our business model to gain access to those other options. In the meantime, PayPal is becoming more mainstream and, at least in the UK, is becoming more acceptable as major retailers are starting to accept it.

We do thank you for your unpaid marketing work. Although you may not have convinced the cappuccino drinker, we did receive some traffic last month from your website at http://anthrolink.com/ (another new venture).

Roger (eiffel)

Additional link:

Cappuccino - Wikipedia




 5 May 2007 17:24 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 5:24 pm UTC 

Good Lord, Roger, you got the business model for UClue from the South Park episode about the Underpants Gnomes?  [Season 2, episode 17, aired 16 December 1998; overall episode number 30] How do I go about get my face slapped with a cat here?

Probo, you lemonade? Me think you Bryan. Me wrong?

So if something is born after another thing dies, can it be said that the second thing outlived the first? Or does it have to be around for a similar length of time?




 5 May 2007 20:11 UTCSat 5 May 2007 - 8:11 pm UTC 

Mark, if Probo's acquaintance was drinking a cappocino, it must have been in the morning, so I suspect he was indeed drinking lemonade,
but there is a chance that it was a sour screw driver...
Why else would he mention it?

Great answer, Roger.  You know that you have all the best wishes for the success of Uclue.

Cheers, Myo




 6 May 2007 08:16 UTCSun 6 May 2007 - 8:16 am UTC 

I agree and disagree with items in Probo's comments...:)

I agree that any on line payment system is definitely a barrier to many. A much bigger barrier is PayPal. Even the relatively simple process of setting up a PayPal account is a big challenge (a pain really!) to many. And besides... setting up a PayPal account takes a bit of time & sometimes a great deal of time (bank transfers to PayPal can take up to 10 days!)... something that a 1st timer may not have. Users of the Internet tend to want quick access. The entire 1st time use of Uclue for someone without PayPal is a BIG challenge and many would not be inclined to bother testing the wonderful world of Uclue with a simple question. Spur of the moment posting just is not possible for a 1st timer. A user has to be fairly dedicated/ determined. I am sure if there was a way for a newbie to post a 1st time, *1 time only* question (limited to a $5 value) without having to open a Uclue account + a PayPal account we would see a dramatic increase in posting volume.

One partial (very slow) solution to avoid money by Internet might be to allow hesitant potential users to prepay Uclue using funds sent by money orders, bank drafts etc. via snail mail. Many corporate accounts would prefer to prepay by cheque. Credit could be built up in an account and spent whenever the need arose for a quality, fee based research. No funds would have to be sent through the dark & mystical world of the Internet. Credit in an account is usually spent more freely too.

The treasure that is Uclue has yet to be discovered by the great unwashed. Once a provocative and sensational viral story pops up here... look out!

I disagree on cappuccinos. I think they're fabulous! The stronger the better... and with a light sprinkling of rich, dark chocolate shavings on top- yum! Now if it was a choice between freshly squeezed lemons in a lemonade on a beach in St. Barts and a fine French Cappuccino... then I might agree.




 6 May 2007 09:04 UTCSun 6 May 2007 - 9:04 am UTC 

The comments about the obstacle posed by using PayPal really hit home.
Especially the concern about internet fraud. I get too many fraudulent emails supposedly from PayPal asking me to give my credit card info... and I don't have an account there...

I'm of the demographic with disposable income to play/pay for answers on uclue.com  but not savvy enough or trusting enough to want to get involved with PayPal. What is stopping uclue from setting up a direct credit card-based payment system (with Visa or MC or ...)?





 6 May 2007 13:50 UTCSun 6 May 2007 - 1:50 pm UTC 

I've been using PayPal on a credit card that I watch like a hawk.

I would never give PayPal access to a bank account, and I know that I can dispute anything on a credit card
- credit card providers are merciless with vendors.

On balance I would prefer to use PayPal than my underlying card.


Roger Browne 


 6 May 2007 14:23 UTCSun 6 May 2007 - 2:23 pm UTC 


Uclue's business model does not make it straightforward to get a merchant account. It's one thing to sell intangibles (products that are not physically shipped), but it's another thing entirely to sell intangibles that may or may not be deliverable - because we can't guarantee an answer to a question.

Now of course Uclue always does the right thing and gives a cheerful refund. But the bank does not see it that way, they see a 25% refund rate and assume that this is a high risk business.

Of course there are other payment models, such as "authorize in advance and charge the card upon posting an answer". Unfortunately, when that payment model is applied to a service like ours there is an aspect which I won't describe here but which makes it less attractive to the banks.

We have explored quite a few payment options, and will continue to explore more. In time, as Uclue establishes more of a track record, this will be solved. In the meantime, it's likely to be PayPal only for some time ahead.

Although PayPal is not perfect, it has been actually working remarkably smoothly for Uclue and for the majority of our customers. For now, it's the most realistic option. In six months, though, I will be surprised if Uclue isn't accepting credit card payments.




 7 May 2007 01:31 UTCMon 7 May 2007 - 1:31 am UTC 

Dear Eiffel  (roger?)

As the questioner has noted the question volume has not blossomed
(which in the early stages of this venture may not be a bad thing)

However as time goes you will no doubt wish to change this. and of
course this comes down to marketing.

With respect to Marketing I am therefore going to suggest something
quite revolutionary in the post internet age:


Before Tim Bernier-Lee made his big "Breakthrough" that is how most business was transacted. And of course it did result in a certain level of unsolicitated phone calls. (In these days this of course translates into spam which is of course much easier as they do not have to take abuse from the caller)

However (and in all seriousness) I would send your customers a polite e-mail explaining you would be delighted to talk to them (about UCLUE) asking them to provide their telephone number and a convenient time to talk to them.

For current customers they can tell you what they like/don't like etc. For new customers you can spend time explaining the concept and also helping them to set up a PayPal account.

I realise this is hard nitty gritty work (and frankly it puts you into a certain discomfort zone when you do contact and talk to total strangers)

Regarding expense well probably time is going to be the biggest expense. As the saying goes talk is cheap and international telephone calling has never been cheaper.

Kind Regards






 7 May 2007 05:47 UTCMon 7 May 2007 - 5:47 am UTC 

Um, I don't mind PayPal. I hate to be one of the few who are on one side of a discussion... hm, well, actually that doesn't bother me at all. I believe everyone should be issued a PayPal acount at birth and intend to take it up with HRH QE Two and Phil, who are right this moment less than 5 kilometers from me (that's three miles for those of us who cannot grasp that silly base 10 system-- true story; a mechanic working on my MG was trying to stuff a #10 metric bolt into a 3/8" fitting on the head because "this heyah's one o' them Yoo-RO-peen cars and they's all metrical!"), a situation which has me all atwitter despite my co-opting a fireworks show in Newport (RI) for Andrew in 1983 to my own ends.




 7 May 2007 08:33 UTCMon 7 May 2007 - 8:33 am UTC 

   As far as the marketing of uclue.com is concerned, I'm planning on
promoting it to my students as a model. I teach overseas at a university. When my students try to explain things in English, large gaps often occur in the logic or presentation. When they try to be polite, they often end up sounding just plain odd instead. I've found the writing style used in the answers at uclue.com to be invariably polite, focused and helpful.  I also write a Business English column for the college EMBA program, so I'll write it up there, too.





 7 May 2007 17:52 UTCMon 7 May 2007 - 5:52 pm UTC 

Holy cow!  What a fantastic answer.  I never expected such a wealth of information and insight.  Leave it to Uclue to provide a hundred dollar answer to a ten dollar question.

And that, of course, is either the genius of your business plan, or its Achilles heel.  I'm not sure which (but I certainly hope the former).

Thanks to everyone who posted, both the formal answer and all the extras.  I might post some more feedback myself after I have a chance for all this to sink in, but I just wanted to get in a quick comment to let you know what a great service this is turning out to be.



John E 


 9 May 2007 01:39 UTCWed 9 May 2007 - 1:39 am UTC 

This comment by Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark at a talk he gave to newspaper journalists recently seems like it belongs here. In talking about his own site's business model, he said:

"To call what we have a business model is laughable," Newmark said. "We make it up as we go along."


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