Wow. Google is shutting down its Google Answers service. The company has announced that new questions won't be accepted after the New Year, though the site will continue to let people view the question archives. Killing off the service, which never seemed to catch on much, certainly will help Google seem like it is focusing efforts toward more needed areas. But it still feels like an odd, almost surrendering move in the face of Yahoo Answers being such a success.
Back in April, I did a long roundup on how answering services in general had never really caught on in terms of popularity. It covered how Google's nearly four year old service generated practically no traffic for Google, plus looked at similar services that came and went.
But in June, I had to admit that my being dubious in terms of Yahoo Answers was off the mark. The service kept notching up tons of traffic, and Yahoo continues to put its weight behind it, to the point of even more integration last week of Yahoo Answers material into regular results.
Look Out Wikipedia, Here Comes Yahoo Answers! from me is my long look at the service and some of the factors in its success. Unlike Google Answers, it doesn't charge. And unlike Google Answers, there are a lot of "answers" that are more discussions happening rather than searches being fulfilled.
Even if there's a lot of chatting going on, I think there's no denying that Yahoo Answers turned into the social success that Yahoo hoped its 360 service or My Web would be. There's a entire active community taking part in Yahoo Answers, and some of those are going to translate into Yahoo searchers.
That action's not lost on Microsoft, which kicked off its Windows Live QnA service in August. I haven't seen a ton of buzz like with Yahoo coming out of it, so maybe lighting only strikes once, in this case. I'm sure Hitwise will run some stats for everyone later today to update us on the space, so watch the blog over there (note: numbers now up). But you can't help but feel Google may have missed out on what Yahoo managed to tap into.
Then again, killing off Google Answers might ultimately be a way for Google to relaunch with something fresh and radically different. We'll see. Killing it off remains far better than leaving things like Google Voice Search still up with a note to "check back in a little while," when it hasn't run for years. I suspect we'll see Google Catalogs get retired as well -- the last Ikea catalog over there seem to be from 2002. I'd say retiring experiments and services that haven't caught on is less embarrassing than leaving them out there doing badly, so Google making the right choice.
Postscript: Gary Price reminds me that Marissa Mayer of Google said not too long ago that 60 to 80 percent of Google products may "crash and burn," so at least Google can say they already said this might happen :)