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Playing a Hunch: Social Decision-Making Site Carves Out New Niche in Search

Should you read this article? Maybe Hunch can help you decide.

The new Web service, open to the public Monday, is meant to help people make decisions on hundreds of topics — such as what kind of camera to buy or where to go on vacation.

While it can’t really decide something so vague as “should I read this article,” its founders say they expect it to get better and better at pairing users with highly accurate custom answers on thousands of topics, many of them user-contributed.

“It’s really about helping you structure and clarify your thinking around decision points that some individual or group have deemed important,” Greg Sterling, an independent Internet analyst and contributing editor at Search Engine Land, told TechNewsWorld.

How It Works

The service starts by asking new users questions about their personalities and interests to help tailor responses to mostly user-generated decision trees on a variety of topics. It then offers a range of topics open for query. Those topics feature interview-style questions designed to help narrow down a user’s interests in, say, vacation spots.

Cofounder Chris Dixon told TechNewsWorld via email that the company didn’t have anyone available to comment Monday because they were “really swamped.”

Hunch launched in March and currently has 2,400 topics, 14,000 follow-up questions and more than 50,000 possible answers, according to the site’s press materials. Most were contributed by beta users, says the company’s fact sheet.

Long-Term Goals

That document also lays out the long-term goal for Hunch — allowing a user to come to the site with any dilemma and, after answering a few questions, “get as good a decision as if she had interviewed a group of knowledgeable people or done hours of careful research.”

It’s not quite there yet, based on early reviews, but Hunch’s founders expect the site to get better as more people contribute decision topics, new follow-up questions or decision results, as well as correct mistakes the site makes in proposing decisions.

Hunch plans to make money by linking users to sites where they can purchase products or services proposed by the site’s decision-tree process.

Market Niche

Such a service will never rival a general-purpose search engine such as Google or Yahoo, but it may become more effective for making some commercial decisions, Sterling said.

“It has an interesting potential to lead someone from a generalized sense of ‘Here’s my interest,’ to a specific outcome,” he said. “It can be much more efficient.”

As such, he said, it could be an interesting acquisition target once it has a few years worth of making decisions on the record — and once the economy recovers.

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