Amazon's Askville.com site, like others in the online answer service niche, allows visitors to post questions to be answered by other users.
Askville has been in testing for a few months and opened to the general public in December. Like leader Yahoo Answers, Askville is free, and participants can earn points based on the quality of answers they provide.
Participants will also earn a virtual currency called "Quest Coins," which Amazon says will be redeemed for unspecified prizes on the still-inactive Questville.com.
The new answer service is the latest in a growing portfolio of Web-based services from Amazon, which is best known for selling a vast array of consumer goods.
"We've got different types of customers who use our Web sites and our technology," Amazon spokesman Craig Berman said. "I think Askville is a service for a new type of customer, for people who want to find information quickly, easily and inexpensively."
Another of Amazon.com Inc.'s Web offerings — the Mechanical Turk research service, where users collectively solve labor-intensive tasks like identifying specific objects in pictures and translating text — will play a part in Askville by guaranteeing at least one answer for each question asked, according to Askville's Web journal.
Amazon also operates a separate search engine, called A9. But Amazon has dropped some of A9's most widely touted features, including the ability to remember everything a user has ever searched for and a service that showed detailed, street-level images of major cities.
Askville's public unveiling quickly followed November's announcement that Internet search leader Google was dropping a similar service.
Google's service required its users to pay a researcher anywhere from $2 to $200 to chase down the answers to minutiae like "How many tyrannosaurs are in a gallon of gasoline?"
Google collected a 50-cent commission on each question, with the remainder going to one of the roughly 800 researchers who had responded to questions since 2002.
Microsoft Corp. and several specialty Web sites like Keen.com, Answers.com and Answerbag.com also compete against Yahoo and Amazon in the highly specialized niche of human-assisted Internet search.
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