Sunday, May 06, 2007

Google Answers folds: The Gift Economy of the Internet

The interesting Google Answers project, which recruited volunteer researchers to answer questions, is finito. A fascinating experiment in the gift economy of the Internet. The blogger at here, considers how the efforts of a small band of volunteers made it work, but also clues us into Uclue, a paid research site. Apparently many of the best answserers at Google Answers also work at Uclue. The going rate at Uclue is $10/question. There is an interesting posted discussion of the viability of question-answering sites like Google Answers, Uclue and another I never heard of, Wuyasea here.

I am fascinated by the gift economy model -- it fits so neatly with the ethos of librarianship. But we can afford to give away information because somebody, somewhere, has funded our library as a resource. These websites are mirroring what libraries have done since the first public libraries began. But they are skating on much thinner funding in their business models which either depend on eyeballs to sell advertising or sell answers. Wikipedia is successful in business terms, but the quality of answers can be sometimes suspect. These question-answering sites seem to be hitting rough weather. Either not enough visitors on a regular basis, or too few folks willing to shell out cash for an answer before they get it.


Roger Browne said...

Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post, Betsy.

There has of course been an internet gift economy for questions and answers since the 1980's: the Usenet Newsgroups. What's different in the 2000's is that there are centrally organised economies: places like Yahoo Answers where people are earning and accumulating points.

At Uclue we want to provide something different. We believe that paid questions not only generate better answers, but also generate better questions (usually). That's why we're happy to pick up the paid answers model where Google left off. Just because the model doesn't fit into someone else's scheme of things doesn't mean that it can't work well for us.

Of course we would love to be earning a salary for what we do, and yet ... with a salary comes a responsibility towards someone other than the customer. What librarian will compose a poem on demand, for example? However we have several researchers who can and will do just that.

For sure we need more question volume at Uclue, and I think that will come in time. The Google Answers service had little development during its last few years - I don't think it reached anywhere near its potential. I'm hoping Uclue will explore some of those possibilities.

Roger Browne
(eiffel at )

Anonymous said...

I'm curious that you seem to think Google Answers was a part of the "gift economy" of the internet, staffed by volunteers. Is this a common misperception?

Actually it was no such thing. I was one of the Google Answers Researchers, and we did not work for free, nor was Google Answers a free service. It was, from the beginning, a paid service, and the Researchers were not volunteers, but screened contract workers. We had to apply with an essay, pass a test, and sign a contract before being allowed to be part of the cadre of PAID Researchers. Uclue is built largely on the same model as Google Answers and operates in a similar fashion, which is why so many of us are participants there as well.

Roger Browne said...

Thanks for your interest in Uclue.

Actually, the "going rate" per question is not simply $10, but anywhere from $5 ("What is the height of Mt Everest") to $250 ("Summarise the trends in exports of coffee varieties from Papua New Guinea between 1990 and 2005").

Anonymous said...

Google Answers never was part of the so-called "gift economy." The Researchers were contractors, not volunteers.