Thursday April 17, 2003
Andrew Robinson (left) and Peter Evans, directors of Experteach and Ammas.com Ltd. Picture / Fotopress
It's mother's little helper
17.04.2003 - By ANITA MATTHEWS
With thousands of websites catering to mothers, what more can a newly launched mummy-type site offer to make a real difference?
Well, mums.co.nz reckons it will give mothers a chance to increase their knowledge and share expert advice that is rated and ranked by their peers.
Fashioned after India's lifestyle site Ammas.com, whose growth was largely fuelled by volunteers, the Kiwi edition hopes to build a web community as large as its predecessor and reward mothers who have contributed to its growth.
Amma means mum or mother in some Asian communities.
Ammas.com was set up by Andrew Robinson and Suren Talla Reddy in 1996 for the latter's mother to provide recipes to her daughter living abroad.
It has grown to an information marketplace providing tips in 21 categories from beauty, health and parenting to marriage.
Last November, HarperCollins published a compilation of recipes, Amma's Cookbook, from Indian Village to Internet, based on the website.
"AskAgent is a prototype for a next generation of internet-based search engines," said New Zealand Ammas.com director Robinson of the key technology behind the site.
American-born Robinson and his Indian wife, Mallika, set up the company last year and its shareholders include Unitec's professor of innovation and entrepreneurship, Dr Howard Frederick, Mark Battles of defunct e-tailer Flying Pig and Peter Evans of FRPartners.
"Our original goal was to figure out a pricing model for information exchange on the internet.
"Once we figured out how to assign values to every element of info exchange through Ammas.com, and after testing on three million users, we knew we had an extremely valuable product. It's the perfect model for the web," said Reddy, AskAgent chief developer.
The AskAgent system is a natural progression from Ammas as it sped up the search process by filtering out inconsequential information and refined relevant data to be stored in a database for future reference.
Each query that enters the system is verified, examined and valued according to its usefulness. At Ammas.com, a council of 100 mothers evaluated replies to queries. Irrelevant queries or replies are flushed out.
AskAgent was installed in Ammas.com in May 2000, giving its 3700 mothers a home page and a private administration area to update their site, send out newsletters, dispense advice, view their statistics, ranking, and generally establish themselves as online experts.
The fine print at the bottom of the page does state that some of the advice offered, especially on health, should not be considered as "professional advice" according to Western standards.
Krupa Singampalli, a software engineer living in California, started responding to immigration queries on Ammas.com in June 2001.
"She is now the number-one-ranked immigration expert on Ammas.com, and is one of the most well-known immigration advisers on the web who is advertising her services for a fee," said Robinson.
The cost to license AskAgent for use on other sites is $75,000 for two years, which includes consulting, set-up, support and maintenance.
Aimed at education, legal, accounting, manufacturing and media industries, AskAgent is being piloted at Unitec and another undisclosed Government agency in New Zealand. Licensing negotiations are under way in the United States as well.
Unitec e-business lecturer Logan Muller is banking on AskAgent to encourage the campus community to a build a database that provides accurate information and answers to students' questions.
"The advantage of this system is that it allows a range of answers to be obtained to a single question from a variety of people, giving the student a cross-section of responses, each with their specific perspective."
Muller said that other e-business solutions lacked the flexibility and customer focus that AskAgent offered.
"People are sick to death of buying solutions that don't do the job. AskAgent is very customer driven, unlike others which I have evaluated that are product driven."
But will you pay for information that is already freely available online?
Robinson and Reddy are confident that people will pay for quality information. "As human knowledge increases and societies get more complex, it is inevitable that quality information is harder to come by and eventually becomes worth paying for," said Reddy.
"What is lacking is a system that can receive a complex query and can respond with a certain level of quality that leads to trust and further interaction. AskAgent is a big step in this direction."
* Recipes: 41,322
* Tips: 197,242 with a new one added every 3.9 minutes
* Hit rate: 350,000 unique users a month
* 2000: Robinson and Reddy set up Luminova Inc (now known as Prathama LLC) in United States to do the development work for Ammas.com
* Feb 2000: Prathama transfers 5 per cent equity to the council of mothers at Ammas.com. The council stake is held in trust
* July 2002: Ammas.com Ltd is incorporated in New Zealand. All technology assets - website, software and intellectual property - from Prathama were transferred. Ammas.com contracts out its development work, support and maintenance to Prathama. Ammas has also set up a marketing arm, Experteach, in New Zealand.
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