There have been a range of “answer engines” or “help engines” (Q&A sites) that have come and gone over the years. Some of them might be considered “social search.”
Yahoo Answers, Ask.com (more recently focused on Q&A), Answers.com, Askville (Amazon), ChaCha, Keen, JustAnswer/Pearl are among those that remain and still exist. Verticals with Q&A angles are also seeing success because of their more focused content.
Pearl, mentioned above, is a paid service that is reportedly doing very well focused on professional advice. But most of the other Q&A sites are struggling. Quora is a case-in-point, trying to broaden its appeal as it searches for a business model. The just-launched Jelly is also struggling for visibility but has considerable “runway.”
Google’s relatively new video advice site Helpouts is a useful and well-designed service but one doesn’t get the sense that many people know about it or that Google is actively promoting it.
Many sites in this Q&A/answer engine category have folded or been shuttered, including Google Answers, Facebook Questions, Hunch, Mosio, Mahalo Answers, Ether and Aardvark (acquired by Google) and others. For those who don’t remember it, Google Answers was a paid service that closed down in the face of a growing array of free alternatives. Yet some of those free alternatives are basically page view generators for display advertising.
Yahoo Answers, for example, was a once-decent product that fell into what might be called “disrepair.” The quality of the information there is uneven at best, as illustrated by this inspired comedic bit from the Tonight Show.
A relatively new site called Rewarder (since 2012), which just announced a partnership with eBay today, is the heir apparent to Google Answers and seems to have found a successful formula to win vs. the free sites. The service offers an expert network of more than 750,000 enthusiasts and “prosumers” who answer questions in a wide range of categories and on a diverse set of topics. It’s actually like the marriage of Aardvark and Google Answers.
With Rewarder each person offers a “reward” (usually $10 or less) for answers to questions submitted by the community. The back end figures out who should see the questions based on user profiles and histories. Users can post for free but they must pay to see the answers. The site takes a percentage of the fee and gives the rest to the community member with the “winning” answer as chosen by the person who asked the question.
The model doesn’t suffer from the challenges of building traffic to generate page views because it’s transactional and not advertising based. And the paid nature of the service frees it from the quasi-spam and lower quality content that plagues sites such as Yahoo Answers and Answers.com.
There’s clearly a role and demand for direct human answers and advice that straight ahead search results can’t fulfill. It’s interesting, however, that years after the closure of Google Answers (because people wouldn’t pay) a site like Rewarder has resuscitated its model and appears to have found a way to make it work while addressing many of the content failings of the free sites.