Late last week Google quietly rolled out a feature where Google asks you if you want to ask a question related to your current search query, and it then posts the question on Google+. It doesn’t look like they’re providing any special interface for the question, but it does make you wonder whether this will threaten Quora’s social Q&A service.
The story was first picked up by Search Engine Land on a tip from Tom Critchlow, and they have pointed out that not everyone gets this feature. It may only appear to those who have a higher level of Google+ activity, because those people are likely to get an answer. It doesn’t look good for Google+ if someone with 1 friend posts a question that’ll never be answered, and with Google’s new top down thinker Larry Page, I feel that he may be asking that new features are released in a way that emphasizes their success. This would be a bit different from the standard Google process of quietly releasing features into the wild and letting them go the Darwinian route — unfortunately Google Wave fared little better than the Dinosaurs on that front.
It doesn’t seem that the service is anything more than a new entryway to Google+ at this point, though. Quora is still a complete system that relies on real users, authentication and most recently, game elements. Quora does the work of a niche network with a series of experts building their reputation and helping one another out, whereas Google+’ rapid expansion has it less and less niche each day — it feels like it may have a Twitter Ashton Kutcher moment soon, where it blows up and the current top users get pushed to the side by celebrities.
While the feature is still sparse, there is the potential that it is just the first step of the work by the Aardvark team. Aardvark was an interesting real-time question and answer search engine that let you ask questions to “Aardvark” on your GChat and then Aardvark would poll its database to try to find someone who could talk to you and get you an answer. Interesting idea, and Google picked them up for $50m in 2009. However, in late 2011 the project was shut down, so perhaps the team is moving on to handle q&a within Google Plus. We’ll see.