Using Qassia: An Intelligent Decision?

Welcome to the second part of our two-part review of Qassia, a search engine dedicated to getting content from its users and building links to their web sites. Last time I introduced you to the concept behind Qassia, showed you how to register, and gave you a look at the dashboard. This time we’ll take a closer look at user-added content.

As I mentioned last time, content added by registered users to the site is referred to as “intel.” Intel is intelligence, a snippet of information; it doesn’t need to be a formal research paper or anything really complicated. This differentiates Qassia’s approach to knowledge from Google’s; take a look at Google Knol. From the example “knol” Google gave when it introduced them, the search engine seems to expect something scholarly. As you’ll see, that’s not the case with Qassia.

While Qassia doesn’t really put restrictions on your content, it does give you some advice in its user manual. You might think that, if your goal in Qassia is to promote your site, you should add intel about your product – but that’s the first thing you shouldn’t do. You won’t get banned; an advertisement is a form of information, so Qassia allows it, “but it won’t help you much,” the company notes. “People do not like to read a sales pitch and they won’t come looking for that type of information either.” Likewise, Qassia recommends that you avoid poetry, short stories, jokes, or other creative writing.

So what should you add if you’re trying to promote your site? Qassia recommends that you start with information you know well, better than most people do. Add original and previously unpublished material; you are allowed to add any material, even recycled stuff, as long as you legally have the right to do so – so no copying from someone else, although your own old blog entries are okay if you own the copyright. Even mundane, seemingly boring information may be good, because someone will come looking for it sooner or later.

Now I’m going to explain what I meant when I said that Qassia doesn’t expect scholarly work from you. One of its recommendations is that you write your intel quickly, without spending too much time on each one. The information should already be in your head, so you won’t have to look anything up. “If you have a hard time putting it in writing,” Qassia advises, “just pretend that Qassia is your best friend and you’re sitting down at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee, spilling the beans.” Qassia is not Google Knol or Wikipedia (no one can edit your stuff but you), so let’s take a closer look at what it is and how to use it.

You can add intel by clicking on a link from your dashboard, but you don’t immediately get a screen at which you can just start typing in information. You’ll have to scroll down to it, and before you reach it you’ll have to go through several steps that help you understand what kind of intel you can add, and guide you in classifying it. Intel must be in English, comprised of sentences, non-pornographic, and not about Qassia. It also must not violate copyright.

The next thing you need to specify is the nature of your intel. Is it original unpublished intel, created specifically for Qassia? If so, you will receive 40-100 Qassia dollars, depending on the length of the intel, plus 0-300 Qassia dollars depending on its rating. Are you the author of the content, but previously published it on your own blog or web site? You’ll receive half as much for it. Finally, for third-party articles, where you have bought the rights for an article written by someone else or the copyright owner has specifically permitted redistribution, you will get no Qassia dollars. You’re still permitted to add it, but by not giving you credit with Qassia dollars, Qassia discourages this kind of content.

Next you specify a channel for the intel. Channels fall into two categories: Intelligence and Creative Work. Creative work is actual creative content, such as images, videos, music, fiction, etc. Intelligence is information, analysis, advice, opinion or commentary about something. Qassia links to examples if you’re confused. You can write about people, organizations, places, events, disciplines (such as SEO), and the like.

After this we reach the details, which you’re likely to recognize and breeze through. First you need to give your intel a title; pick one that is short and tells what your intel is about so it will do well in the search engines. Then you add relevant geographical tags; if you’re writing about a local restaurant, for example, you’d add tags for where it’s located, separated by commas (ex: Plantation, Florida, United States). Next you add topical tags – anything except place names (ex.: restaurant, sushi).

Next you specify the back link. Which web page do you want to get credit for this intel? This link will be displayed whenever this intel is viewed or referenced, and it will be a “dofollow” link. If you do not specify, Qassia will use your own Qassia profile page as the link. You can also assign credit to a site that is not in your list of sites – so if you want a friend with a web site to get a dofollow link for your intel, you can do that too.

Finally, we get to the box where you put your intel. But even after you put your intel in that box, we’re not quite done yet. You can add external links for reference purposes. These links will be nofollow links, and you can add up to ten of them. For example, say you did an intel where you compared three of your local sushi restaurants. You can add links in this section to the web sites of each of these restaurants, to help readers who may want to check them out.

You can also add images – up to 25 per intel. And you can caption each image. If your thing is photography, and you decided to do an intel that explains a particular photographic technique, you’re in very good shape here. If you have a web site that sells your photographs and promotes your photography lessons, you’ll definitely want to use this kind of intel with a dofollow link to your site.

I’m up to the last three items involved in adding intel: comments, copyright, and contributor’s note. You can switch comments on or off. If you switch them on, users can leave public comments on your intel. You can manage comments on your intel through your dashboard, so you’re not totally at the mercy of the mob. With copyright, you can choose between the default All Rights Reserved, Creative Commons, GNU Free Documentation License, and Public Domain. If you choose “public domain,” Qassia notes, anyone can legally duplicate your work – so go with all rights reserved when in doubt. Finally, you can add a contributor’s note, which will be attached to your intel. This is a good option to take if you’re using a Creative Commons license, because there are several different kinds, and a contributor’s note will give you a chance to specify which rights you’re keeping and which permissions you are granting.

Rating intel is fairly straightforward. You visit the part of Qassia’s site that lets you search for and access intel. I haven’t yet shown you a screen shot of this part of the company’s site, so here it is:

 

As you can see from a glance at the keyword cloud on the left, Qassia offers a nice variety of topics, including SEO. It also includes images of recently active users (or at least the images that these users have chosen to provide). Now, you should know that this isn’t the entire search page; Qassia can’t seem to avoid making you scroll down. So here’s another screen shot:


Here you can see the actions that have happened in the past 24 hours, and on the left you can see intel that is waiting to be screened (I’ll talk more about that in a bit). To avoid putting in yet another screen shot, I’ll just describe the rest of the page. There is a list of the freshest intel, a list of hot intel, and another box on the left hand side for site updates.

To rate intel, you make sure you are logged into the site, find a piece of intel, read it, and then click on the stars. The intel rating is at the bottom of the article, which encourages you to read it all the way through. You can also click on the comment button here and leave a comment. The system uses a radio button, but nothing is checked by default; here I’m giving someone a middle of the road rating for a half-description, half-rant about black hat, white hat, Google and SEO:

 

You’ll notice there’s a link that says “flag this intel.” If you believe a particular piece of intel has not been correctly classified, Qassia encourages to flag the intel. If a contributor’s intel is flagged more than once, Qassia will take a look at that intel – and if the flag is correct (i.e. the person incorrectly classified the intel), Qassia will ban the user.

Screening intel is not the same thing as rating intel. Just as with rating intel, any registered user can do it – and you earn Qassia dollars for it. See, when you submit intel to Qassia, it doesn’t go live immediately; it has to be screened first. There is a box on every page that lists intel waiting to be screened. Screening is designed to be easy; here’s the screening box at the bottom of the article I chose to screen:

 


As you can see, there are only four conditions that bring on an outright rejection. You also have the option to leave feedback for the author if you think it will improve the intel. This is important, since only the author can modify the intel. Rather than bringing up a screen in which to type text, though, clicking the feedback link yields a list of items for the author to examine, involving such matters as narrative flow, better formatting, including links, fact-checking, etc. On the up side, the list seemed to cover most of the kinds of issues that one would typically see when reading/editing an article.

Intel must be screened by a minimum of 12 users before being published or rejected. Not only can authors not rate their own intel, but if you have referred the author to Qassia (or vice versa), you cannot rate the intel. And just to make sure this doesn’t happen, the link to the screening page is disabled if any of these conditions is true. Oh, and you can’t screen an intel more than once; as with the other conditions, the link to the screening page is disabled if you’ve screened a particular intel before.

I’m not really in a position to see if Qassia really does improve one’s rank in the search engines. But I have to say that I’m impressed by the strict controls that Qassia has put into place. Not allowing for more than one account, ever, will help keep out spam if it works. Limiting who can screen what intel will help slow people down as far as slipping intel through the cracks that shouldn’t be on the site. And making sure a relatively large number of people must screen intel before it is permitted or rejected (and letting them provide standardized feedback) improves the chances that what does get through will be of reasonable quality.

A poster going by the handle of Greekgeek reviewed Qassia on the SEO & Affiliate Marketing section of Squidoo not long after it went into closed beta. He noted that he “received low ratings for my short, informative but un-hip intel on obscure topics…that land many visitors on my Ancient Greece Odyssey travel blog.” He did better when he started writing opinion pieces and humorously written “did you know” material, as well as detailed product and web site reviews.

Greekgeek concluded that, “In short, the Qassia dollars/ratings system is going to tilt intel towards breezy submissions that can be written and rated speedily.” This can be thought of as either a bug or a feature, depending on your point of view. I think this issue may be inherent in the web itself, and the shorter attention span that most people bring to it.

Yes, there are places online where you can find deep, detailed information about particular topics, but so far those seem to be specialty sites that focus on that topic – for example, if you want medical information, you may go to WebMD to start with, and then look deeper. You probably wouldn’t go to Qassia, even though they do have medical material on their site.

On the other hand, Qassia does seem to fill a need. It looks like it will be a fun site for browsers, and if you like going through random blogs, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you’re trying to get your site rated in the search engines, you might want to give it a try. I’ve seen mixed reviews on that, but when it works, it apparently works reasonably well. This is yet another case where only time will tell; it will be particularly interesting to see how well it scales once it’s out of beta.

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