Friday, April 14, 2006

MSN Answers coming?

Olga Kharif at BusinessWeek reports that Microsoft will be launching a question-and-answer tool and more aggressively pursuing social search:
Microsoft plans to unveil a question-and-answer social-search tool in the coming months ... The feature will let users direct questions to a specific universe, such as a group of friends, rather than to get automated lists of results from a generic search engine.
Coincidentally, I was just talking yesterday with someone at MSN about Yahoo Answers. He surprised me by saying that Yahoo Answers is effective and successful. He claimed that there is a lot of crap on Yahoo Answers, but, if you ask a question, you will get a good answer quickly. He encouraged me to try it again.

I tried asking a three non-trivial questions on Yahoo Answers yesterday. Unfortunately, as I expected, the answers I received are half-assed, sloppy, and useless.

I still think Ask SVP Jim Lanzone had it right when he suggested that there is little incentive for people to answer hard questions in these tools and that, for easy questions, it is "usually just faster and easier for people to search normally ... than to submit a question to the community and wait for an answer."

Popping up to a higher level, I find it curious that MSN is going down this path. Not only are they doing a knock-off of Yahoo Answers, but also BusinessWeek suggests that they intend to go after social search, a Yahoo My Web 2.0 knock-off perhaps.

I had thought that MSN's search strategy was to provide easy-to-use, more powerful tools for search, but these recent moves suggest that MSN may also be pursuing social search, trying to exploit the power of their community to improve search like Yahoo seeks to do.

And this makes me wonder if Microsoft has shifted its sights from targeting Google to targeting Yahoo. Is Yahoo an easier target than Google? Is Yahoo vulnerable? Does MSN have more to gain by going after the #2 player than the #1?

See also Danny Sullivan's excellent comments on the BusinessWeek article.

Update: It appears Yahoo Answers deletes questions that fail to get good answers -- a bit annoying, but probably a good idea -- so the link above to my three questions may no longer work. The questions were about Google's AdSense revenues and the traffic on Yahoo Answers and Yahoo MyWeb. The answers were useless, as I expected. This is most likely because a high quality answer to the questions would have required some effort and expertise. There is little incentive for people with expertise to expend effort on Yahoo Answers.

Update: Barry Schwartz reports that the Yahoo Answers knock-off, MSN Answers, changed its name to Windows Live QnA and is now in closed beta.


Anonymous said...

What I really think is that MS will copy anything that looks good, hoping to keep releasing different search features until something takes off. They are trying to gain traction in any area of search they can. So they will introduce all kinds of different search products - regular MSN search, Windows Live Ajaxy Search products, Social Search products, etc.

What we are really witnessing here is that MS search is still in test mode, and they are not sure were to focus in the search arena yet.

Greg Linden said...

Great point, OR. There may be no real strategy here. MSN may be thrashing ...err, I mean... experimenting with lots of different things in an unstructured way, seeing if they get traction anywhere.

Anil said...

Think about it: If you want to be beat Google, would you like to throw more manpower to beat Google's search algorithms or would you rather try and change the search paradigm. MSFT is trying to do it with two srategies:

1)Q&A platform - getting users who might not usually publish on the web (read uncrawlable data for Google) to publish their knowledge
2)Social Search - currently this has the potential to attack PageRank.

This is definitely a strategy being employed by a player that has nothing to lose!

Anonymous said...


Even google have their own "google answers" pretty different than the rest though.

You pay to post a question. There are quite a lot of questions though being asked.

Yahoo answers have a lot of nonsense questions as well.