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Amazon's Answer to Question Market

Can retail giant Amazon loosen Yahoo's grip on the online question-and-answer market? That question won't likely appear on Askville.com, Amazon's new free Q&A service that competes with Yahoo Answers and fills the space Google vacated.

Open since December, Askville.com hopes to foster a community atmosphere by allowing users to ask and answer questions for free. The service arrives shortly after Google's departure from the arena.

Users gain virtual currency known as "Quest Coins" by simply interacting, which involves logging into the system and asking or answering questions. Answers can embed content from Amazon or Google, including the retailer's products, YouTube videos or Google Maps.

Later this year, users will be able to redeem their Quest Coins at Questville.com for unspecified rewards.

Yahoo Answers owns the online answer market, with 96 percent ownership, Hitwise reported in late December. Answerbag.com, founded in 2003 by DemandMedia, took second place with little over 2 percent of the market. Askville claimed less than 1 percent of the online answers space.

When Google exited the market in November, it said there might be a better way than what Google Answers was offering. The company charged users for answers from paid researchers, arguing that this way ensured users obtained high-quality answers, the search company argued.

Askville's success depends on links from Amazon.com, LeeAnne Prescott, research director of Hitwise, said. Yahoo Answers uses links from its portal. And there's the rub, Prescott said. "It's really hard to think beyond e-commerce with Amazon."

As users go to Yahoo or Google when thinking information, Amazon's image is e-commerce. And Amazon has little luck when venturing away from its e-commerce base. A9, Amazon's search portal ranked 140, capturing less than 1 percent of the market.

Amazon has had greater success with its custom-selling program, Prescott said.

In a related development, Amazon launched Endless.com, a shoe and handbag store offering users free overnight shipping, plus a 110 percent price guarantee.

And the man who started it all is taking his e-commerce earnings to space. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went public with plans for his Blue Origin space venture, offering passengers suborbital rides within six or seven years.

Bezos said he will build a testing facility on his 165,000 acre ranch in Van Horn, Texas. The Amazon billionaire joins other tech pioneers, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Virgin's Richard Branson, looking to space for business adventure.