Sunday, August 26, 2007

Questions and answers

Occasionally, Google does strange things. Like suddenly shutting down Google Answers, an "experimental service" that aimed to connect paid Internet researchers with paying, information-seeking customers, in 2006. As far as I can tell, this termination was a surprise to most people, even the researchers themselves. Most of the time, I can accept that Google works in mysterious ways, but sometimes those ways are so mysterious that the internet community has to question Google's wisdom. Why, Google? Why?

For every question, there is an answer. And although this one isn't fully formed yet, a new clue materialized on the scene earlier this summer: Google Questions and Answers.

In Russian.

That's Вопросы и Ответы / Voprosi i Otveti. And weird. On many levels.
The comment thread on this post from Google Blogoscoped tackles most of the pressing issues. The first is, why Russia? Some speculate that Google is using Russia, and its ginormous population, as a kind of top-secret test lab for a possible reincarnation of such a service in the U.S. This would make sense; Google Answers, and its predecessor, Google Questions and Answers, were both kind of high-profile flops, and Google probably can't risk another embarrassment. Others question the whole idea of sniffing out scandal; why shouldn't the Google Russia team be able to develop its own products, especially when Google so desperately needs to compete with homegrown search engine alternatives like Yandex and

However, the most interesting question might not be why, but how. Voprosi i Otveti seems to be experimenting with a point system, similar to the one used by Yahoo Answers in the U.S. One catch: you can gain points not just by answering other people's questions satisfactorily, but simply by visiting the site.

Could Questions and Answers be making a comeback stateside anytime soon? Hard to say. Google works in mysterious ways.

In the meantime, you should really learn Russian so that you can find out the answer to another question that, frankly, haunts me daily: how can I tell my left foot from my right?

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