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Former Symbian, Psion boss answers all your questions

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Exclusive Colly Myers, the former managing director of Psion and founding CEO of Symbian, is taking the wraps off his start-up today. It's a fascinating challenge to the web's free search engines. For the price of a pound, Issuebits' AQA service will answer any question you want to pose it by text message, and Myers says users will get an answer within six minutes - also by text message, naturally.

US library users will be familiar with the concept: professional librarians on this side of the Atlantic have long offered such a service for free. Google itself uses professional librarians for its Google Answers service, which costs more. Issuebits' differentiator is the fast turnaround, mobile access and seamless billing. Issuebits says it has patented Natural Language Processing algorithms as well as real human researchers. The service goes live on Orange and Vodafone networks in the UK this morning with the others to follow.

"The search engines like Google don't give you answers," says Colly, who says he's more impressed with Ask Jeeves but regards both as deficient. He's willing to bet that people will pay for the utility AQA offers. He also cites higher phone penetration -

"Only 50 per cent of people have PCs, but far more people have mobile phones," he says. He wouldn't elaborate on the algorithms, or at what stage AQA hands over the automated process to a human being to achieve that 'minutes' turnaround. He could explain what you can and can't ask, however.

"We do get some very difficult questions. Like what number shirt a Manchester United player was wearing in 1927, what was Number One in Australia on the 2 February 1969, and yes, even what is the 'meaning of life?'" Nothing is too metaphysical, he says. However AQA won't answer adult issues - which we think means no sex, rather than no mortgages.

"We can answer every question, it's whether it's deemed appropriate or not." The hardest of all are where there's no answer, such as when someone asks when a non-existent book was published.

"We got someone who asked what happened to his pub's football team last Saturday. It wasn't easy, but we got the answer."

The tough part, says Myers, is reducing the length of answers to one SMS message. However AQA will always provide context, remembering what you've asked it (hopefully there's an option to ask it to delete that trail, given the concerns over Google's data harvesting exercise) and invite you to ask it another.

The Internet bubble inflated and popped, while the amount of hype remains roughly constant (see our Quantum Theory of Internet Utility and letters). But one thing we have learned is that good quality databases and researchers cost money. Google - a pun an old Russian word which means, literally, "the biggest pile of garbage ever mathematically measured" - only has the Internet to work with.

IssueBits is a lean virtual company, although familiar Psion and Symbian names are evident: Paul Cockerton, formerly Symbian marcomms boss is handling the marketing, and rough diamond Bill Batchelor - a legend from his engineering work on the Psion Series 5 - helped with the user interface.

"It's the same old story: me doing the back end and Bill doing the front," said Colly, who had some fascinating thoughts on the industry after two years' silence, which we'll share with you later today.

The website can be found here - and you can give it a whirl by dialing 63336. Let us know how it shapes up. If it does, pub quizzes and school exams may never be the same again. ®

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