It's odd that Google gives away so many services for free--even 3D modeling and mapping software--but Google Answers charges $2.50 and more to pose questions to its experts. After four years of operation, Google Answers is cutting off new questions this week, although it will allow answers to stream in until the end of this year.
Since people have grown to expect free content on the Web, Google's fee felt like a fortune. That's partly why I didn't review Google Answers when looking at other similar but free services, such as Yahoo Answers, Answerbag, and Windows Live QnA.
Although costly, many of the replies on Google Answers were thoughtful and accurate, which was the point. Demanding money for expert advice is an obvious way to filter out the chattering amateurs who clutter Yahoo Answers and its ilk. But asking pennies, not to mention dollars, for someone's thoughts is a hard sell these days when unpaid bloggers and volunteers within online communities are a dime a dozen.
At the same time, it shouldn't be so hard to cash in on your expertise if someone needs specific instructions in a pinch. Wouldn't you gladly part with some coin if someone could tell you, say, how to hook up a new entertainment center the day before the in-laws arrive? BitWine, in beta, might do the trick. It works with Skype to let you interact via voice and Webcam with experts who set their own prices for advice. Some advisors ask for nothing in return, while many want a dime per minute. Others charge whopping fees, such as $15 per minute for business counseling. Letting users set their own fees seems to be a better system than that of Google Answers.
More question-and-answer services should involve instant messaging and provide more than mere text interaction. After all, it's easier to show than to tell. But Yahoo Answers ditched its experiment with video replies long ago. Answerbag, on the other hand, integrates video instructions without costing a cent, but it lives within a browser, and its video responses aren't live.