The race to build a successor to Web search is heating up as a number of young companies seek to fill gaps they see with Google Inc.
One of the hopefuls, Quora Inc., made its public launch Monday after months of private testing. The Palo Alto, Calif., company, co-founded by two early Facebook Inc. engineers, wants to collect and organize information people have in their heads but that may not be available online, such as background on the inner workings of a company and advice on how to get a reservation at an exclusive restaurant.
Think of Quora as “Aardvark meets LinkedIn Q&A meets Twitter.” It offers people the ability to post questions and to answer them, effectively conducting “discussions” of topics online. It also has followers and so links people together as individuals and as groups of interest.
The site is very nicely packaged and put together.
Quora joins a longish line of sites that have been categorized under various rubrics: “social search,” “answer engines,” “help engines” “social directory assistance” and “answer communities.” Yahoo Answers is the patriarch of the group. But there are a whole bunch of others. Here’s a partial list:
- Amazon’s Askville
- LinkedIn (Q&A)
- Aardvark (now part of Google)
- MerchantCircle Q&A
Microsoft offered Q&A for a time but it was shuttered. Facebook is developing a Q&A service and Twitter is informally used in this way. Bing Social offers a version of this. And we might throw Hunch into this bunch.
And a long time ago Google offered “answers,” which was a paid service. It was shut down in 2006 as the free Yahoo Answers service was gaining adoption.
None of these sites are “Google killers.” In fact they make Google stronger because the questions and answers often will be indexed — extending Google’s reach into the “tail.” Quora has plans to allow Google to index its questions and answers.
There are numerous circumstances where someone would potentially go to one of these Q&A services to get information before coming to Google or in tandem with Google to get additional perspective. It’s clear that in many instances a human will have a better “answer” or recommendation than Google. But now Google owns one of these sites too — Vark.
If Quora hits “critical mass” then it could become a very effective place to get information or perspective on various issues. LinkedIn’s Q&A service is well used and often very effective. And a Facebook Q&A service could prove to be extremely popular.
An interesting question to ponder is how Google will ultimately deploy the assets it acquired with Aardvark.com. It could simply operate and grow the service as it is today or it could also use it in some new and creative ways as well — for example as a customer service tool or as a concierge service. Mobile is a particularly interesting use case.
Regardless, human Q&A and search will co-exist; it’s not “or,” it’s “and.”