Remember Google Answers? Anyone? No, didn’t think so, as it was hardly the most popular service that Google ever provided. Indeed, you can probably count the number of services that Google has launched and then closed on the fingers of one hand, and possibly even one finger. Google Answers launched in April 2002 and did that other rare thing for a Google product, came out of Beta juts one year and one month later. Yet it closed down in November, after four years and the participation of 800 ‘researchers’ answering questions for cash.

The only official statement regarding the closure talks about it being “a great experiment” and “reconsidering our goals for a product” but ironically provides no real answers as to why the plug was pulled. The consensus of opinion out in the blogosphere is that the researchers just got fed up with the way they were treated when it came to the cash grab for the high dollar questions which did not necessarily result in the most qualified expert getting the gig, nor the folding stuff. Which was another problem, apparently, as there were complaints that money was being held back even if a correct answer was given because customers without the brain power to properly absorb the answer marked them as not being satisfied. It was something of a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction on both sides of the fence, with the researchers most able to answer the questions being least likely to bother putting in the time so to do, and the punters getting ever more dissatisfied with the crap answers from the non-expert researchers just out for a quick buck.

There was, it has to be said, very little in the way of real surprise amongst industry commentators who knew what they were talking about when Google Answers was eventually put out of its misery.

Which is why I was, indeed, very surprised to learn that some of the researchers behind that failed service are having another go, sans Google, and have started Beta testing a new service called Uclue. Apparently all the researchers so far are ex-Google Answers people, so you might imagine they would know better than to have another go in all but name. Let’s face it, if Google could not make it work, with all the branding and audience reach it has, then what chance the small guy? Indeed, are there any real differences between the defunct Google service and the all new one, do these guys really have any Uclue at all?

Where better to ask than at Uclue, and that is exactly what someone did and solicited a somewhat to be expected response of Google Answers was a small piece of a large company, Uclue is a large piece of a small company. To be honest matey, we could have worked that one out for ourselves. The real differences start to become apparent when looking at costs: whereas Google charged half a dollar to ask a question, Uclue charges zilch, nada, nothing; whereas the Google answers started at $2, the Uclue minimum is $5; whereas Google was a payment on production of a satisfactory answer system, Uclue demands payment in advance using PayPal.

Personally, I would have thought that if you are going to have a pay per answer system that worked then you need to scrap the low end, low rent payments altogether. How much work is someone going to put into an answer for five bucks? Seriously? Not a lot is the answer (that will be five dollars please) unless the question is so easy that you have to wonder why the person is willing to pay for an answer in the first place. Surely the only possible future for such a scheme is to make it a true expert driven thing, answering difficult questions that take time to research and solve properly, and doing it for money that makes it worthwhile. The trouble with that model is that if you look around you will probably find somewhere that already offers that kind of help and advice for pretty much any given subject matter, free of charge. Take the IT sector, take DaniWeb, for example. We continue to go from strength to strength by relying upon nothing more expensive than a sense of community and IT professionals with the desire to help one another. No payments are involved, none are required.

At the low rent end of the market the competition is even greater, with Yahoo Answers and Microsoft Live QnA doing just fine with its points scoring not cash rewards concept, and if you broaden the scope a little then both a bit of Googling or ten minutes alone with Wikipedia will often come up trumps.

So here’s a question for the expert researchers: does Uclue have a future? I’m not convinced that the answer would be worth more than a couple of bucks, to be honest…

About the Author

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

How many defunct web sites have such dedication that many of the participants regroup to form a new service?

When Google Answers was shut down there was a genuine sense of loss by the particpants on the site. Immediately a petition sprang up to resurrect the site. Letters were sent to Google and an active group was set up on Google Groups called GA Alumni. Even a video appeared on Youtube:

Yes there are a number of free Q & A sites across the web but nowhere could a serious questioner get one stop shopping for intelligent, indepth answers except at Google Answers. I find it astounding that volume seems to be the only accepted measurement of success on the web.

GA was a specialty shop patronized by people who appreciated intelligent answers and comments. Sure there was the odd yahoo but they generally left as quickly as they came. A community grew and a fierce loyalty developed. Amazingly a great deal of fun transpired too and in my opinion this became the glue that held everyone together... not bad for a pseudonymous group!

Will survive? I believe that it will because it doesn't have to perform/ generate the traffic expected within a LARGE organization. It has the ability to change/ improve as the participants desire... not as the parent operation approves. There is more than enough brain matter within the ucletian crew to spread the opportunity for quality answers on diverse topics around the web.

Time will tell. I'm betting that while no one may get rich on uclue that it will become an important bookmark for many... so valued that it will permanently reside on many bookmark toolbars... a status usually reserved for only the most successful of sites.

I wish Uclue well, I really do. I am just doubtful as to the sustainability of the paid for answers concept as a business model, given the number of free information alternatives out there.

I don't agree that volume is the only marker of web success, far from it, but Google Answers highlighted many of the problems facing the pay me for my time approach: namely that many people want the cheapest possible answer, irrespective of whether that is the best answer or not.