Google Helpouts: Same Fate As Google Answers?

Many years ago Google had a Q&A service where people paid for answers to questions that were able to be researched (properly) online and offline. It provided an income of sorts for 500 researchers, and overheads were low. Yet Google decided to kill it off. If they had left it running, by now there would be an incredible body of knowledge that they could enhance their search results with.

Now we have the newly launched Google Hangouts. You pay for help and advice that you receive over video.

The categories being offered initially include art and music, computers, cooking, education and careers, fashion and beauty, fitness and nutrition, health and home and garden.

The Helpouts range from free to $240 or more. Some examples include chemistry tutoring and homework, learning to play guitar, yoga instruction, French language lessons, fixing computer problems or refrigerator repair.

“With Helpouts, you can choose who you get help from based on their qualifications, their availability, their price, their ratings and reviews,” Manber said.

“You can connect instantly or book in advance. You can get help from individuals or from brands you already know and trust, like Sephora, One Medical, Weight Watchers, Redbeacon (a Home Depot company), and Rosetta Stone.”

Given Google’s track record of giving up on products, I hope nobody invests too heavily in this…

Google Hangouts Easter Eggs

At Google Hangouts it is easy to send someone an animated gif. Consequently Google have chucked in a few special animations, just because they can (via Mental Floss)

Typing in “/Pitchforks” in a Google Hangouts dialogue box will launch a stream of angry townspeople racing across the screen with pitchforks. “/ShyDino” will feature a green dinosaur hiding behind a small house in your chat window, while typing “/BikeShed” will also change the background color. And they didn’t forget My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in Google Hangouts, either: Typing in “/Ponies” or “/Ponystream” will make animated ponies dash across your chat window.

40 and still a virgin

You’ve probably noticed by now that Google Search has an auto-complete function. Start entering a search query, and Google gives you a few popular choices that will save you typing all the keywords.

You can use this to complete statements, such as “Barack Obama is…” – first choice from Google is Barack Obama is the devil. So obviously for certain searches this is being gamed. With that in mind, here’s a story from the Daily Mail about auto-completes of “I’m [age] and ”

A YouTube video posted by Marius Budin shows what words are automatically completed by Google Instant when you type the word ‘I’m', followed by your age.

The most common phrase across all age groups was ‘I’m [age] and still a virgin’, yet ‘and pregnant’, ‘never kissed a boy/girl’, and ‘don’t have a career’ were also popular.

As I said, these can be gamed:
When Budin typed in ‘I’m 10′ the top result was ‘and pregnant’.

I think it is pretty obvious that neither is this the most common search that starts with “I’m 10″, it also isn’t the most common phrase appearing on the web. What seems to have happened is someone wrote about being 10 and pregnant at Yahoo Answers, and because of the shocking nature of it, many people linked to it. That got it to #1 for “I’m 10 and”, which results in top billing for the auto-complete.
The story is a result of people reporting on topics they don’t understand!


Farewell Google Affiliate Network

As an example of how little Google cares about a product once they decide to shut it down, we only know about this via a brief mention in a blog post, sneakily titled An update on Google Affiliate Network:

We’ve made the difficult decision to retire Google Affiliate Network and focus on other products that are driving great results for clients.

To be fair, Google didn’t buy the network deliberately, it was a minor component of their multi-billion dollar purchase of DoubleClick. Known as Performics back then, the affiliate network was worth perhaps $50 million (based on what Double Click paid for it 2 years prior).

But also to be fair, if they didn’t want it they could have sold it to someone else and pocketed $50 million. Perhaps it wasn’t worth their bother for such a piddling amount.

Since Performics became GAN, it hasn’t changed much. Apart from making it look more like a Google product, it seems they put little effort into it. They didn’t even give it its own domain name!

And now, merchants and affiliates who have perhaps had a relationship for a decade through the Performics / GAN platform, will now have to shift to a new platform. Of perhaps just give up, emulating the mega-successful Google?

Google: Product Killer: 70 & Counting

That’s not 70 all time, that’s 70 in the last 18 months. How many businesses have the luxury of ditching products at a rate of one per week??

Woody Leonhard says:

By my count, Google has discontinued more than 70 free-standing apps and major sets of APIs in eight different “spring cleanings” over the past 18 months. Perhaps Larry Page took Steve Jobs’ advice to figure out what Google’s good at, and focus … mercilessly.

It is easy to forget in these fast-moving times, but these are some of the more notable dumps:

  • Aardvark – peer-to-peer Q@A, purchased for $50 million, lasted 19 months
  • Google Desktop Search – best you could get, great brand advocate, but not an earner
  • Fast Flip – interestingly the similar product FlipBoard is all the rage these days…
  • Jaiku – like Twitter but they didn’t want to play second fiddle
  • Google Wave – email 3.0, but too advanced to make waves
  • iGoogle – a landing page that was used by millions. They’ve re-animated it until November, but this is one of the more senseless killings
  • Google Reader – it seems almost certain that the most popular replacement will make a $billion
  • FeedBurner – purchased for $100 million, massive user base, hanging on by a thread. Do they dare kill this as well?

Google Caught Using Paid Links

Google promise to do no evil… but they have been caught manipulating website ranking using the very same technique that has seen other sites punished – paid links.

Basically, Google has paid for “advertorials” in online newspapers, and within the content is direct links to Google products. According to Google the only legit way of doing this is to ensure the links are “no follow”. In the examples uncovered, the links are just regular, meaning Google benefits from the link juice.

Full story at SEO Book

These things can easily happen when a company gets too big, and especially when they assign a publicity campaign to someone who has no knowledge of SEO practises. I doubt it was deliberate!

Meanwhile, in the UK Google has punished flower delivery service Interflora, as well as more than 150 news sites that they had advertorials on, just like Google, without “no follow” links.

Impossible Queries Find Adult Answers

By the time you have read this, Google will have most likely fixed the “bug”. While it certainly isn’t a feature, or an Easter Egg, it is curious:

The Verge highlighted a Quora post about the bug, where doing some searches for “contradictory” or impossible to solve queries brings back porn listings.

For example, queries like the ones below currently do this (and be forewarned, you’re going to get porn results at Google if you click on these links):


Found at Search Engine Land

FTC: Google Free To Promote YouTube (etc) in Search Results

…the [FTC] decided on a 5-0 vote that Google’s prominent promotion of its own products and services in search results is not biased towards competitors. [Source: Adage]

The ultimate takeaway from this investigation is that Google can keep buying near-monopoly information services and rank its own properties well in search results. YouTube was already dominating when Google bought it, and it would have been mighty difficult to ever lose than dominance (via some catastrophic error), or for a competitor to ever best their first mover advantage. Sure, if you had a few billion spare you could run a comparable service that was ad-free… for a while.

A better way to describe Google’s future monopoly would be that they have five options when an website starts to dominate search results for a particular niche:

1) Buy it
2) Buy a competitor
3) Ban it
4) Copy it
5) Give in


Google also agreed to no longer scrape content from other properties for inclusion in its own search results. Google was alleged to have grabbed content from other sites such as restaurant reviews site Yelp, leading consumers to believe the scraped content was Google’s, said FTC

So, back to their five choices… It is unlikely that Google can make a case for banning Yelp. Buying Yelp might be tricky, given that it was specifically part of this investigation. Copying is unlikely, because Google hasn’t exactly excelled at social – but they might try to incorporate reviews into Google+.

That leaves buying a competitor – and they already have, Zagat just over a year ago.