Can you drink water from an Air Conditioner? Google says no, Yahoo says yes

… or at least their respective “answers” services do.

rusty juice Today I saw that the very first product of Google Labs (launched back before “beta” was in Vogue) Google Answers is finally shutting down. This stands in stark contrast to Yahoo Answers, which launched just months ago and has enjoyed pretty impressive growth and adoption. It’s not really fair to compare them side by side since they’re significantly different products, but I will do so anyway.

Google Answers was a paid service. You could ask a question, post a bounty for it (say $10), and one of Google’s researchers would research and answer you. There was an unspecified but real relationship between price, difficulty, and time it took to answer (usually several hours).

Yahoo Answers, by contrast, is an unpaid service. You can ask a question and within minutes or even seconds some 15 year old punk will give you a snide remark posing as an answer. Once in a while, somebody will attempt to actually answer it and even more rarely, answer with some degree of usefulness.

Want some examples of what I mean?

I took the 4 questions mentioned in Google Answers “adieu post“, ones that had been answered previously via Google Answers and posted them in Yahoo Answers to see the difference in responses. Here is the breakdown:

  • Can you drink water from an Air Conditioner?
    Answers: Google | Yahoo

    Google: “All facility managers should know that air-conditioning systems and cooling towers are a potential breeding ground for Legionella bacteria.”
    Yahoo: “It’s actually not bad. Try it. Taste like chicken.”

  • Why do flies survive a good microwaving?
    Answers: Google | Yahoo

    Google: “To answer this, first we must understand how a microwave oven works…”
    Yahoo: “because they r strange thats y”

  • How many tyrannosaurs are in a gallon of gasoline?
    Answers: Google | Yahoo

    Google: “The answer is that the carbon content of one tyrannosaur is equivalent to that in about 460 gallons of gasoline”
    Yahoo: “56” (that’s user Grumpy Dufu’s best guess)

  • What is the flammability of Google headquarters?
    Answers: Google | Yahoo

    Google: No answer. Comment: “Google HQ’s Flamability Index remains unchanged.”
    Yahoo: “Only one way to find out. Go torch that mother[bleep]er.”

So overall, I think the old adage “you get what you pay for” holds true. However, this also illustrates that free services that are heavily promoted by their companies will do better than paid services that are not given the proper exposure (even if they are of better quality). There was also the issue of timing. Y!A launched during the craze of the second dotcom bubble (you might know it as web 2.0), while G!A launched right after the great depression of post-dotcom bubble (web 1.24) and therefore automatically received much less attention.

Y! Answers is now more akin to MySpace while G! Answers is was much more akin to a librarian working for tips. In today’s teen fueled economy MyLibrarian.com (while more attractive than its counterpart) can’t really compete in popularity to MySpace.com.

Maybe there’s a reason Google has been less receptive than Yahoo to using low level user generated data in their products.

To recap:

Finding out AC juice is not good for you? $2
Powering your car with a tyrannosaurs? $1,035
Yahoo Answers? Priceless