Google is pulling the plug on Google Answers, a service that allows people to submit questions over the Internet that researchers answer for a fee.
The search giant didn't say why it was closing the service, which launched about four years ago and was one of Google's first non-search projects. Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of SearchEngineWatch.com, said the service never achieved the popularity of Yahoo Inc.'s rival offering, Yahoo Answers.
Google will stop accepting new questions for the service later this week, it said in its official blog late Tuesday. It will accept new answers to questions until the end of the year, and it will maintain the archive of questions and answers online for browsing.
"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 product," the company said.
Google Answers started as "a rough idea" from cofounder Larry Page and was brought to fruition after four months' work by a team of four developers, the company said.
The service allowed users to submit a question and specify how much they would be willing to pay for an answer, which could be anything from US$2 to US$200. Any of about 500 researchers selected by Google could then go to work on the question.
Some researchers had noted a decline in the service. In October, one of them posed his own question to Google Answers: "What has happened to Answers?". Some replied that the service had declined because it was not linked any more from Google's home page. Others said Google had stopped notifying people when their question had been answered, leading to dissatisfaction with the service.
Sullivan said Google Answers never achieved the success of Yahoo Answers, which managed to generate more of a "community" feel among its users. Yahoo Answers is free, and questions can be answered by any registered user. Google said its paid service offered better answers because they came from hand-picked researchers.
Google's retreat "feels like an odd, almost surrendering move in the face of Yahoo Answers being such a success," Sullivan wrote. But killing the service is probably a smarter move than allowing it to languish online, he said.
Microsoft launched its own offering, Windows Live QnA, in August. The service is in beta and, like Yahoo Answers, is free to use.