Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything), Quora Sessions, Product Hunt Live, Twitter Q&A—the list goes on. There are a number of avenues online where we’re given a chance to pick the brains of celebrities and influencers in a specific field. But could we really have too many ways in which to reach out to these “experts”? The creators of Whale (or Whale Q&A) would hope not. The new iOS app lets its users fling out inquiries to influencers like other platforms do. The answers, though, come in concise one minute chunks of video, as part of the app’s vision to be “Quora for the Snapchat generation.”
Ask Whale was created by Y Combinator partner Justin Kan to solve a personal problem. As a serial entrepreneur (he has founded Twitch, SocialCam, and Justin.tv) with a large following, he found himself answering a lot of the same questions over and over. While Snapchat offered a simple way in which to publish answers, it didn’t address his need to store those answers so they could be accessed by his followers at a later time. So he created Whale to facilitate interactions between experts and their followers, and to compile that information into a searchable compendium of knowledge around a topic.
Both asking and answering questions is incentivized in the app; every influencer on Whale sets a certain price for their answers; each time a user asks a question, they agree to pay that amount if the answer is given within 48 hours; if not, that amount is refunded. But it isn’t just the experts who have the opportunity to make money through the app. Every time a user on the app accesses an archived answer, they pay a small fee in the form of ‘coins’, the in-app currency. That amount is split between the person who answered the question as well as the person who asked it. If a question gets popular enough, users have the opportunity not just to break even on what they spent to ask it, but to also make some additional money.
TipTalk, founded in April of 2015, has an incredibly similar premise. It’s still around, but complaints swirled earlier this year of the “influencers” not being all that “influential” and the “celebrities” not being all that recognizable—a serious problem where pay-to-play is the model. Activity within the app is not public, so its popularity and profitability are unclear, but maintaining a valuable caliber of experts is certainly a challenge Whale will have to face.
An app with a similar premise as Whale got quite popular in China earlier this year; Fenda is audio-based, and managed to get thousands of downloads in a very short period of time. Its rise to prominence is creditable in no small part to celebrities answering often personal and sometimes scandalous questions on the platform. QZ reports that one such Chinese Internet celebrity, Wang Sicong, priced each of his answers as high as $760. Wicong had made $37,000 just from responding to people on Fenda at the time of the writing of the QZ article.
That there are people out there willing to pay such exorbitant amounts of money to have their questions answered by celebrities should be reassuring to the creators of Whale. But will they be able to monetize to the same extent without letting the platform devolve into a simple gossip stream? I guess someone will have to pay to ask them.