On Tuesday, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) announced that after four years, it will be closing its Google Answers site. Many in the blogsphere are saying the shutdown is proof that the company has suffered a chink in its armor.
It's true that the similar Yahoo! Answers still seems to be doing fine over at Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) . But I don't think the situation is quite as simple as some may think. In fact, I believe that the shuttering of Google Answers might actually be good news.
Let me explain. I think Google officials had it right in their explanation on the company's blog when they wrote that "Google is a company fueled by innovation, which to us means trying lots of new things all the time -- and sometimes it means reconsidering our goals for a project." Translation: "Sometimes we fail, and that's OK."
I agree with that assessment. As counterintuitive as it might sound, failure can sometimes be a sign of success. Projects like Google Answers are often risky, and more often than not, risky projects will fail. The upside, of course, is that risky projects are also the ones most likely to lead to the big breakthrough ideas. Therefore, to survive in today's hypercompetitive environment, where companies must either innovate or die, companies must generate more failures to ensure at least some breakthrough successes.
On a more practical level, though, I believe that Google dropped the program because Google Answers wasn't contributing to its mission of "organizing the world's knowledge and making it useful." Oh, sure, some people were interested in knowing the answers to such intriguing questions as how many tyrannosaurs are in a gallon of gasoline or why you shouldn't drink the water your air conditioner emits -- and paying for the privilege. I suspect, however, that the vast majority of people either weren't terribly interested in knowing what once made up their gasoline or were smart enough not to drink water from the A/C.
On a larger level, though, I think the program failed for a simple reason: Google's main search engine and its sophisticated algorithms are now so good that most people no longer need to pay others to answer questions for them. They can do it themselves quickly, and for free.
And that, far from being a failure, is a huge success.
Interested in other Google-related Foolishness?
Fool contributor Jack Uldrichisn't interested in what's in his gasoline, but he would like to know what a tyrannosaurus did when it got gas. He does not own stock in Google. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.