Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Google Answers croaks

Andrew Fikes and Lexi Baugher post on the Official Google Blog that Google Answers will stop taking questions and effectively shut down.

Google Answers was a clever but unpopular site where you could ask any question and have it investigated by a small group of professional researchers. Fees were quite high, so the audience was fairly limited. Moreover, it always seemed out of place with Google's normal tendency to focus on automated solutions.

In light of this shutdown, I think it is worthwhile to compare Google Answers to some of the other question answering services out there.

Danny Sullivan has a thoughtful post comparing the now defunct Google Answers to the more successful and free Yahoo Answers. Like Danny, I have been surprised by the relative success of Yahoo Answers given the low quality of both the questions and the answers.

Another interesting comparison is with the fledgling Askville and NowNow question answering services from Amazon. Those services appear to be trying to blend Google Answers (tens of dollars for answers from experts) with Yahoo Answers (free for answers from idiots); Askville and NowNow use Mechanical Turk and will charge under a dollar for answers. I am curious to see if these Amazon Q&A services succeed, or if the lesson from Google Answers is that people are not willing to pay for answers regardless of quality.

Gary Price also reminds us that Ask Jeeves had a Q&A service called Answer Point that they shut down in 2002. It apparently was similar to Yahoo Answers and was free. That may suggest that we should not conclude that the free model of Yahoo Answers is better, but that none of these community-based question answering services, whether free or not free, have legs.

On a slight tangent, I think it is great that Google is shutting down some of its failed experiments to try to keep their focus. Just last week, I was lamenting the amount of failed and failing features on Google, Yahoo, and Amazon and wrote, "Old products never die, but they should. To innovate, it is not enough to love creation. We must also love destruction."

See also my previous posts ([1] [2]) about Yahoo Answers.

Update: See also Brady Forrest's thoughts over at O'Reilly Radar.

Update: See also Nick Carr's post, "The five Google products".


Unknown said...

Well I wrote a post last night that quoted exactly that section. I don't care, I'm still going to make it live. :)

Anonymous said...

In response to Google's announcement that they are shutting down the Google Answers service, researchers have banded together to petition Google to keep GA alive. Please sign.
Keep Google Answers Alive

To: Google

The Google Answers service has helped many people during its four and a half years of existence, and it continues to do so. Researchers and unpaid commenters formed a community which should not be discarded lightly. Many repeat users were able to easily find answers to difficult questions thanks to the service. Furthermore, Google Answers proved that a living could be made working on the Internet alone, as many researchers worked on the site as their sole source of income.

We, the undersigned, believe that Google should continue to provide this valuable community service to the Internet.


The Undersigned

Anonymous said...

While I agree with your assertion that to innovate effectively, companies should be able to love destruction, and in that sense it is good that Google decided to kill something that wasn't going anywhere; but do you think the general idea of a community Q&A service is a bad thing?

For example, is it not possible in the long term to distill an ontology/database of knowledge not unlike Cyc ( from this collection of Q&As? I admit that much of it is useless, but over time can this not evolve into something similar to PageRank - if a large number of people/a number of "authoritative" people believe that x is the answer to your question, then we take x to be a fact and build an ontology/database of such that can then be used to reason about or understand user queries.

As an aside, am I the only one who thinks it makes a lot of sense for Google to buy out (or at least collaborate with) Cyc Corp. to take their search results to the next level?

Greg Linden said...

I think a problem with community Q&A is finding the good stuff in all the crap. I would think that the quality of so many of the answers and questions are so low that it could be hard to find anything of value in an automated way.

However, there is an interesting counterexample to that right now, the fact that Yahoo started surfacing Yahoo Answers data in Yahoo web search results. Apparently, they consider Yahoo Answers data to be pretty darn good. It will be interesting to see if that works well for them as Yahoo Answers continues to grow.