Google Answers Closes Shop (Extended Version)

The comparisons between the booming Yahoo Answers and the shuttering Google Answers (see our initial reporters’ log post from last night) are pretty stark. Google Answers wasn’t bad — it was an extremely cheap way to outsource random research questions and get a trustworthy result — but it never really took off. Furthermore, the product’s reliance on people didn’t fit with Google’s algorithmic ethos, so cutting it was an easy way to satisfy the company’s newfound desire to trim its product line.

Online community specialist Yahoo, on the other hand, made its own Answers product, released less than a year ago, open to the public and free of charge. The answers you’ll get on Yahoo are generally about as good as the unfiltered comments on a popular blog — definitely not professional-grade, but usually pretty useful in aggregate, with a few gems.

Yahoo PR just emailed to remind us Answers has accumulated 60 million users worldwide (14.4 million uniques in October according to comScore) and 160 million answers. We replied to ask how many of these users had answered questions. “It’s safe to say virtually all of the users have answered questions,” replied spokesperson Melissa Rische.

“Why – when you ask a question you lose points. In order to get points back you need to answer questions. Someone couldn’t only ask questions and stay in the system long. Plus, the real addicting part of Y! Answers is the question answering. Some of our top users who have more than 100,000 pts have only asked a few questions.”

In contrast, Google had a core of about 500 approved experts (800 total answerers over the product’s 4-year lifespan) who provided detailed, thoughtful responses to users’ questions. The experts were motivated by small fees and tips, and refined their answers if the person offering a bounty was unsatisfied.

This morning, Hitwise analyst Bill Tancer posted his firm’s breakdown of the marketshare of visits to Google Answers, Yahoo Answers, and Microsoft’s Live Q&A. Yahoo’s relative dominance is striking.

The common wisdom will tell you Yahoo is much better at creating community, and the common wisdom is right. Yahoo Answers is the simplest way out there to ask “the internet” for help, in natural language — another take on the Ask Jeeves of yore. At the same time, Google Answers had value that had nothing to do with community; it was more like one of those custom online term papers sites that was actually good. The similarity of the two products’ names is a bit misleading, but the comparison between them is telling.