I simply don't agree with Eric on this one. His main argument seems to be that this startup isn't adding anything of any value to the space.
The way I see it is this: Wikipedia is not very consumer friendly. It's dull looking and the entries are usually filled with a lot of text. The modern internet consumer is constantly facing more and more attention disorders and a lot of people don't simply like to read.
The search result in qwiki is auditory and visual and you can consume it completely without reading anything. I looked up a few countries I want to visit, a few programming languages and everything worked incredibly well.
One of his arguments is that the technology is something that could easily be duplicated. I think it's true up to a point, but honestly, what hacker couldn't duplicate the base functionality of a twitter of 4sq in an afternoon? I think the inherent value isn't actually with the technology itself but with the implementation, the data, the UI and, ultimately (so it seems), the company's dedication to packaging information in a more-easy-to-consume fashion.
This will work incredibly well on a internet connected TV screen. Who can picture themselves reading wikipedia articles with their spouse in the living room off the TV? Not me. But if I'm going to, say.. Oslo http://www.qwiki.com/q/#!/Oslo I could picture myself looking that up and listening/watching with my SO. Even if only to get the basic info.
Another usecase is with mobile operation. Since I got my HTC desire I constantly google stuff by doing a voice search. I have to use my best american accent, but none the less it's very useful. If my search result could be a visual/auditory search result like that, it would suite some cases much better.
I think this might actually mark a new era in the startup space. I'm coining the term:
Somebody grab that domain name if it's not already taken?
I wasn't suggesting you were saying that, I was only making a point related to your two criticisms:
Wikipedia is not very consumer friendly. It's dull looking and the entries are usually filled with a lot of text.
That you read the abstract at the top of the article suggests to me that the article structure is very efficient (and arguably consumer friendly) in that they provide the TLDR summary above the fold, which nullifies the problem that the full article may have too much text.
By the way, my use case for Wikipedia tends to have me reading the complete article more than just the abstract, because I'm usually in research mode when I use Wikipedia. Of course, everyone has a different use case, and I suspect your use case is more common than mine.
No, I would say Wikipedia is very research and student friendly.
Most non-tech people I know would have probably looked at Wikipedia once or twice. I would say Wikipedia is barely scratching the surface of delivering knowledge to the general person on the street.
There is definitely scope for delivering wikipedia information in an alternative format. Particularly through mobile devices. It's like when Facebook was still limited to universities and was yet to bust out into general use.
These are some use cases that I do not deeply consider, actually. They might change the context a bit.
I still don't see it as anything more than a toy, even in these cases, and how the valuation could be at all justified, especially given their usage trend while in the alpha, even with all the TC hype.
It is both a blessing and a curse to judge these things based on your own opinions and maybe that's what I'm doing right now.
Because I actually want to use this. Not for everything, but I for many things I can imagine myself using this. At least I've put it in chrome's search bar under the keyword qwiki, let's see if it sticks :)