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Google Answers

Even though the service is no longer taking new questions, you can still visit the Google Answers FAQ.

Screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

Another thing we don't do anymore, now that Google is freely available and instantly useful, is the "answers" concept. While Yahoo! Answers, for example, is still used, it's usually because it's entertaining and weird, not because you expect any real answers. When you want actual information, you go to Web sites established to discuss your specific area of interest. You use social networking to ask the people you know and trust. Once again, we see an obsolete model -- a universal tip line, answering any question you might have -- to a version more closely mirroring our actual, real-world experience.

But what was it? Several companies – such as ChaCha and AskJeeves -- were built along the lines described above: Ask a question, about anything, and get an answer back. It's a way of getting other people to Google things for you (which to my mind sounds insane). Where these concepts, and Google Answers, go wrong is in monetizing the concept. Asking somebody to Google something for you is bad netiquette, certainly -- but it's also stupid business. To make things worse, Answers used an auction-house model, paying whichever freelancer could be bothered at the given price to provide the answer.

Silly now, when your browser will automatically give you search results and Google's powerful engines make ever better attempts at giving you the correct ones, but in the transitional time before Google became second nature to all of us -- from April 2002 to November 2006, to be specific -- it served a purpose [source: Fikes and Baugher].

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