Google Answers is reborn in Russia

Google announced today about the launch of beta version of its Q&A service (used to be Google Answers, see my previous post Google says adieu to Google Answers from November last year).

Today we are launching the beta version of “Questions and Answers”. The new Google service, where you can ask a difficult question on the topic interesting to you, get an answer from other users, and can earn points, responding to other people’s questions. Or you can just chat with smart people :). We are particularly pleased to announce that Russia — the world’s first country where we are launching this service; It is not even available for English language users.

It is remarkable that Google had chosen Russia to test the new service, as Russia is the country where the concept of this kind of service originated. For me as a researcher, the most interesting were the details of implementation of the new Google service and how they differ from the existing services. By launching the service in Russia, Google gave me an advantage in reveiwing it, as I am a native speaker of Russian.

Google service is pseudonymous as ones of Naver and Yahoo, the nicknames of the authors of questions and answers are shown right next to their contributed content. Google uses automatic question tagging and search box on top in order to help users find quesitons.

As most services of this kind, Google provides an incentive system to motivate people to answer questions. It is based on assigning points for actions as follows:

Action Points
Registration +100
Visit +5
Posting a question -Bonus
Posting an answer +2
Posting an evaluation +1

Google encourages users to visit often. It is quite curious that Google’s reward for a visit is higher than for posting an answer. This seems counterintuitive to me and unique among similar services. Points are also assigned based on results of human evaluation:

Evaluation Points
Best answer +Bonus
Excellent evaluation (5 stars) +10x
Good evaluation (4 stars) +5x
OK evaluation (3 stars) +1x
Bad evaluation (2 stars) -3x
Awful evaluation (1 stars) -5x

Here x is a log base 10 of the number of evaluations. The system of levels is quite google style:

Level Score
Newborn 0 ~ 28
Child 28+1 ~ 29
Elementary school student 29+1 ~ 210
Middle school student 210+1 ~ 211
Freshman 211+1 ~ 212
Senior 212+1 ~ 213
Graduate 213+1 ~ 214
Professor 214+1 ~ 215
Department head 215+1 ~ infinity

There are three main navigation buttons: Ask, Find, and Tags. Below them there is a list of open quesitons (with no answers shown). On the right side there is a list of popular tags and a list of top users. There is also tabs for “closed questions” and “all questions.” I had chosen a question “What is web 2.0?”. It has five answers:

  1. AJAX and Google (average score 2.5)
  2. An attempt to direct the flock into the required direction (average score 3.5)
  3. (the best answer) The term appeared in the article What is Web 2.0 by Tim O’Reilly … Despite the fact that the meaning of this term is often disputed, the people who assert the existence of web 2.0 distinguish several main aspects of this phenomenon (average score 5.0)
  4. Oh, yes + reference to the wikipedia article about web2.0 (average score 3.0)
  5. I will write about it in my blog soon. I was sceptical about it, but now accepted it. This is a constellation of technologies, and Ajax is far from the first place. I would put RSS and Atom into the first place.

Apparently, Google Q&A uses a five star system to evaluate the answers and the average evaluation determines the winning answers. It is not possible to add another answer once the question is closed and there is no way to reopen it (similarly to Naver and Yahoo Answers).

After a quick look at the new Google Q&A service I can say that technologically it closely resembles Naver and Yahoo Answers. I found the main differences in reward structure, style, and user interface. Google seems to have a cleaner user interface, that would be a reason to prefer the Google service over others everything else being equal. The effectiveness of such social search services depends on the community of participants they attract and the efficiency of the technology supporting the exchange of knowledge. Among two technologically very similar services, like those provided by Yahoo and Google, the one that will be able to build a more diverse and motivated community of participants will be able to provide a better service to them.

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