Google has launched a new fee-based program in beta that provides live answers on any topic. Don't have time for research? Google Answers researchers are waiting in the wings to find the information for you.

The concept is similar to Ask Yahoo!, which uses volunteer live-experts to answer questions for registered Yahoo! users, or AskJeeves, which uses a question database to link users with online information providing answers. You don't know how qualified the Yahoo! experts are since they're volunteers. Your quest at AskJeeves can be time-consuming depending on your search skills. Google Answers should provide more accurate, timely information because the experts are paid, rated for quality, and supervised by Google editors.

Easy to Use

Create an account by registering, which is free. You provide an email address (which is verified), password, nickname, etc. Then post your question, which can be clarified or expanded later. Google provides tips on creating good questions. You'll need to select a subject and category, price and time limit, and then provide payment information.

The price ranges from $4 to $50 plus a non-refundable $0.50 listing fee. Log in anytime to view question status. Answers and updates are provided by email as often as you like (hourly, daily, etc.).

Who's the Target?

"Google Answers provides extra assistance to users who have limited time to research and gather data or those unfamiliar with search," said Google spokesperson Eileen Rodriguez. Time is a scarce commodity in this day and age. Everyone is on fast-forward with mounting deadlines. So wouldn't you pay $5 to $10 for a little research on the details while you finish up the main project? The program sounds perfect for busy CEOs who need answers, aren't Web savvy, and are used to delegating.

Quality of Answers

Who are these researchers? "Google selects researchers based on several criteria, including their written communication skills and ability to locate information on the Web," said Rodriguez.

Users interested in becoming researchers can apply at https://answers.google.com/answers/main?cmd=apply, where they'll be asked to write an essay on why they want to be a researcher and also answer five sample questions. Answers are reviewed by Google editors before posting. Researcher Guidelines are at: https://answers.google.com/answers/researcherguidelines.html

How can consumers be sure that the Google research pros are providing the best answers to their questions? It's a matter of judgment, and users can rate the answers with one to five stars. "These ratings are important because they measure performance," said Rodriguez. "If several of the answers receive a poor rating or are returned, the researcher risks being dropped from Google Answers."

Google also provides a money-back guarantee in case anyone is dissatisfied. Here's how it works. "Researchers answer questions to the best of their ability, summarizing the answer and providing links to useful Websites the user can visit for additional information," said Rodriguez. "If a user is unsatisfied with an answer, he/she may apply for a refund, less the 50-cents listing fee."

Google stresses that information provided by Google Answers is not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Information about Terms of Service can be found at https://answers.google.com/answers/termsofservice.html

Researcher Bias

While it can be subjective to determine research quality, another factor to consider is researcher bias. The difference between business and institutional researchers is that librarians are usually educators who aren't commercially motivated; whereas business researchers can sometimes be commercially motivated in selecting information to report. This suggests that research from public and university libraries might be less biased than Google Answers.

"Google carefully monitors the quality of the answers sent by the researchers," said Rodriguez. If several of the answers receive a poor rating or are returned, the researchers responsible for answering the questions risk being dropped, and Google Answers reserves the right to terminate a researcher at any time, for any or no reason."

To counteract this, Google has in-house editors who spot-check answers written by researchers and can pull any answer at their sole, reasonable discretion. Researchers aren't paid for any answers pulled by an editor.

Answer Access

What's interesting is that Google users are free to browse current questions and answers. You can click here to see a list of currently asked questions, answers and comments (if posted), as well as the star ratings (I saw several 5-star answers). If you see a question and answer you can use, it's free.

Can users select any researcher they want based on expertise? "No, it works the other way around," said Rodriguez. "Researchers can answer any question not yet answered or locked by another researcher."

Library Competition

Research services come and go, and most librarians aren't worried about the quality and demand for their own services. They'll be watching to see what happens with Google Answers, adjusting their services if warranted.

Google is careful to avoid comparing its new service with library research services. Rodriguez said "Google Answers differs from library research services in several ways, and one of the main features is the repository of questions and answers. At Google Answers, questions and answers are posted for all users to browse at their convenience. Additionally, users have the ability to post comments to any question and answer, enabling Web community interaction among users."

Will it Work?

The program is still in early beta and will be tweaked as it progresses. Google is asking users for feedback and will consider all suggestions that result in a better product.

More Information on Google Answers at: https://answers.google.com.
May 16, 2002





Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.






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