An app with better answers than Facebook




What do you do when clueless? You consult someone who in recent years has increasingly become Google. For many, the American search engine is almost always the first port of call. Zuger Christoph Wirz (37) along with his colleagues Jonas Schwarz (36) from Basel and Fabian Schumacher (34) from St. Gallen are against this development. One and a half years ago, the young entrepreneurs founded the start-up Pocket Solutions AG. Core product is their free app mAsk.
 
Anyone who downloads the app (www.askmask.ch) has to create a profile - a mask - outlining "skills", areas in which he or she is well versed. These expert fields, for example "football", "baking" or "fashion", are deposited as keywords. Registration is anonymous, only a phone number is required. As an active user, you decide for yourself whether you wish to act under a pseudonym or use your own name.
 
Questions inbound from the US and Asia
 
The app relies on swarm intelligence. This principle already exists, for instance in the form of Facebook groups. One such example is the group "Zuger helfen Zugern" with almost 16,000 members. Despite significantly fewer users - currently around 560 - their swarm intelligence is better than that of Facebook and deliver better answers, claim the mAsk team: "Facebook does not show a question to those group members who have the relevant expertise to answer it, but to all. That's exactly what makes our app better," says Christoph Wirz. Jonas Schwarz adds: "To put it simply, our swarm intelligence finds the right people and as such the right answers too." Moreover, the quality of an answer increases when a questioner receives the same answer from seven different "experts".
 
According to the developers, more than 70 percent of all questions asked on mAsk can already be answered today. Thus far, the app has answered close to 2,700 questions, some originating from the US and even Asia. Three main categories have come to the foreground, says Schwarz: Service questions and recommendations, for example: "Where can I find a good cleaning company in Zug?" or "Which pizzeria in the region is the best?". Secondly, people flirt or make arrangements via the app and thirdly, mAsk users often address taboo questions, "in regard to illnesses or why you cannot get pregnant or labour laws," shares Schwarz. "Hence it is important to us that once a dialogue has been established between two users, it remains unobserved and private," says Wirz. Exactly that's the point of the app, that different to a gigantic search engine it does not swoop all the data. Does mAsk not do this? Yes, of course, answers Jonas Schwarz. But one does not sell this for a profit, rather tries to utilise it to further develop the app. This was programmed in Switzerland, the updates and the Android version, which will follow shortly, will be developed in the Czech city of Prague however. Currently, mAsk is only available on Apple iOS.
 
How do Wirz and his colleagues plan to earn money with the app? "Over time, service providers, such as a pizzeria for instance, should be able to offer their services directly," says the Zuger. A first step in advertising of sorts. After all, if you ask for a service, you should be able to access it directly. He does not believe that this will be a disturbance to users, so Wirz. "We will only distribute a limited number of accounts to service providers and experts." It should stay that way that humans can ask other humans questions.


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