My First Use of Google Answers

I was pleased when Google launched its Google Answers service way back in 2003. It is a remarkably simple and powerful tool when you can’t find an answer to any question on the world wide web. I’ve searched the answer database and found some pretty interesting questions and answers, but today I used it for the first time to post a question:

I’m looking for the leading classical music labels in the world.

I’m pretty certain that I could spend a few hours online or in the local university research library and come up with a pretty good list myself. But to save time, I’ve offered $50 if someone else will do this research for me.

I’ll report later on how this test goes. A recent article by Linda Arret in Info Today suggests that Google Answers is declining, not growing, and that other online reference services have not fared well.

“Few companies on the Web have more exposure or marketing clout than Google. Yet with over 200,000,000 searches per day, it never has attracted more than a couple of hundred questions per day to Google Answers and, in recent months, the average has dropped down to around 60-70. Granted, you do have to pay for the service, but at an average fee of $15- $20 hardly seems much of a barrier. However, the most compelling evidence that marketing can only help so much is the untimely demise of live reference services such as WebHelp and of the commercial reference market in general. Many of these services spent millions of dollars of venture capital money on marketing. WebHelp even put up a giant, two-story-high neon revolving sign on the busiest street in Toronto, as well as banner ads all over the Web. While those antics may have bought some traffic for awhile, it was not enough to make for a sustainable business model and today all are gone–along with the millions spent trying to market their services. The limited traffic at Google Answers and the demise of well-funded commercial reference services on the Web raise some serious questions about just how much people really need or want reference services online–no matter how well marketed–at least in the ways we have offered up until now.”

So I’m not extremely confident that I’ll get my question answered, but I still think it is worth a shot.

I think Google Answers has significant potential.

They could figure out a way turn some of the 200,000,000 daily queries into questions (like Ask Jeeves) with a text link that says, “Have your query answered by an expert”. Then Google users could be post their questions on Google Answers (after setting up an account, of course). But this is many steps and may just get in the way of the super-efficient paid click revenue model.

Perhaps a better suggestion is that Google Answers launch an affiliate program that incentivizes (some people use the word “incents” but I looked it up and “incentivize” is the proper word according to dictionary.com) other web reference web sites to tell their users to submit questions to Google Answers. The referring web sites would then share in the revenue from Google Answers. (I don’t know how much Google pays to the researchers, though, so this would lead to a three-way split and may not be very profitable.)

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2 Comments

  1. Paul,

    When I first heard of this model I doubted its potential from the outset. The problem lies in the target market. How many people can really afford to drop $10-$50 just to avoid doing the research themselves. Many CEOs, rich folks or at least well-to-do. And what cripples it even more so is the fact that these folks many times employ people to do research for them. It reminds me a lot of WebVan which I believed was doomed from the outset for “some” of the same reasons (obviously the infrastructure required is much less here).

    I believe that Google’s inability, with their number of search hits, to successfully build the kind of response needed is a very accurate barometer of the viability of this business…IMHO.

    Yours truly,
    Scott Klossner

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