Reinventing Reference? Try The Pearl Model

Today I came across a story in Wired A  Place for Burning Questions” describing what may be a new model for the future of research support: . It uses the tag line ” Wisdom when you want it.” At this point they offer the services of only a  handful of specialties and yet they have built a multi- million dollar business. Earlier this year the company  raised a $25 million Series A round of funding, which included investors Charles Schwab (the man himself) and Glynn Capital. bills itself as  “a revolutionary new way to help solve life’s everyday issues.” The service strikes me as being a cross between a reference desk and Angie’s List. Pearl connects people with questions with “professionals” who can  provide answers. The professionals currently offering their services are doctors, lawyers, mechanics, computer technician, veterinarians, home repair and something called a “life professional.” They have not yet added information professionals,but can that be far off?

Unlike other social network sites that offer crowdsourced  answers, claims it is the only website offering advice from screened, qualified professionals. The service promotes itself as being fast, anonymous and available 24X7. The prices are cheap. According to the Wired story a basic  question costs $15 and a more complex question can cost $80. The average time to get an answer is  10 minutes. Pearl also offers a 100 percent money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied with your answer.A review of their terms of service, indicates that they are providing “Information” not “advice”.

According to the Wired  story, gets 250,000 questions per month and has earned $100 million in annual revenue, and has had a 123 % revenue growth year over year since 2008.

Sounds Like a Reference Interview to Me

All you have to do is ask your question, set an approximate deadline, and decide if you need a lengthy answer or a concise one and a specialist sets to work analysing your request and writing a response. As Google has given everyone an easy way to perform a quick fact check. the research questions sent to the research  staff in law firms have grown more sophisticated. In light of the complexity of the questions handled by the average law firm reference librarian, their answers should command a premium for a lawyer under a tight deadline.

Is it Time to Outsource Ourselves… To Ourselves?

At the 2011 PLL Summit, Keynote speaker Esther Dyson responding to  the convulsions in the legal marketplace, suggested that librarians might be able to build a more secure professional future as outsourced professionals selling their own professional services back to law firms. Looking at the Pearl model if 3 million questions can generate $100 million in revenue a year – this might be a model worth adapting. Given the ongoing uncertainties of the legal industry… the time may be now.