Google Answers Reaches End of the Line

How many dinosaurs could you build out of the carbon in one gallon of gas?

Before the introduction ofGoogle Answers and other Q&A Web sites, that question might never have been asked, much less answered. However, within hours of its initial posting, it received an apparentlywell considered answer. The short response: You can build 1/460th of a tyrannosaur using the carbon in 1 gallon of gasoline.

By the end of 2006, Google will stop accepting questions on its Google Answers Web site, one of the many experimental projects launched by the company a few years ago. The service allows anyone to pose a question online and receive an answer for a price — the above example netted US$10.

Google’s announcement, made via a blog posting by company software engineers Andrew Fikes and Lexi Baugher, offered no reason for the decision to abandon the site.

Niche Sector

Google was one of the first online companies to develop the Q&A format. Other companies have been successful with it, so it’s not obvious why Google decided to pull out.

Answers Corp., for instance, recently added the Q&A content fromYahoo Answers to site. Answers also acquiredFAQ Farm for $2 million, Bruce D. Smith, the company’s vice president of strategic development, told TechNewsWorld.

“This is a viable and potentially very lucrative niche,” he said, noting that Yahoo claims to make money from its Q&A feature.

New Models

The medium is still evolving. “There are significant differences in how Google Answers, versus Yahoo, versus FAQ Farm operate,” Smith noted.

Google Answers is considered a serial Q&A site, he said. The person who poses a question can see the answer supplied by an expert, as well as additional comments offered by other users of the site. The community ranks the responses. Yahoo Answers uses a serial Q&A format, as well.

Some Q&A sites, such as FAQ Farm, are based on the wiki model, which allows community members to modify the questions and answers. “There could be a question with a three sentence answer and someone could come along and expand on it,” said Smith, just as people do atWikipedia.

Smith is betting on the wiki model, which would use advertising as a revenue stream, to gain widespread adoption. “Consumers just don’t want to pay for information on theInternet,” he maintained. “They know they can get it for free if they look hard enough.”

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