Feeds

Are Google's glory days behind it?

Colly Myers on the rise of AQA

Boost IT visibility and business value

Interview Answers service AQA is two years old this summer, and finds itself in the happy position of not only being profitable, but something of a social phenomenon in its home country.

A book based on the service, The End Of The Question Mark is due to be published in October, drawing the questions Britons ask, and the answers AQA gives them. Not bad for a company that still has only nine full time employees.

What AQA allows you to do is text in a question and receive an answer for a quid. This might strike US readers as expensive: it's nearly two dollars (or four days of the San Francisco Chronicle) for a few lines of text at today's exchange rate. But Britons love texting, and arguing, and AQA's combination of canny marketing and the quirky charm of AQA's answers have proved to be a hit.

But where AQA particularly interests us is how its success poses a challenge to a lot of the Californian-inspired orthodoxy about search engines, and Silicon Valley's latest hype of fetishising "amateur" content.

These are strange times indeed when an AOL web executive must defend his decision to pay former volunteers real money for their labours. Actually pay them - so they can help feed their families? The horror of it!

Founder Colly Myers had plenty to say on this, in typically no-nonsense style, when we caught up with him recently.

AQA served its 3 millionth answer recently, notching up the last million in four months. The previous million took seven months, and the first million took 19 months, which gives some indication of its growth ramp.

AQA's owner IssueBits has been profitable since last October, says Myers, and he thinks the market is young and there's plenty of opportunity to grow. AQA doesn't have the field to itself - 82ask also caters to the curious texter - but it is in pole position.

Myers seems particularly proud of the infrastructure: AQA uses around 500 researchers to answer double the volume of queries it did before (the actual composition of the research staff varies, as they drop in and out of work).

The internet's "search business" has had saturation coverage in the last couple of years, typically in hyperbolic terms. The subtitle of one recent book suggests that the company "rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture" - that's a book that Google liked so much, it bought hundreds of copies for its staff. But very little of the coverage has highlighted the philosophical and practical flaws of the web search business.

AQA's researchers don't use Google (or Wikipedia, which we'll come to). And internet search is a business that may already have seen its best days, Myers suggests.

There are several reasons to support this view, and in some cases they're interrelated. One is that Google is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain its index. It's ignored the second law of thermodynamics.

"It's a well known aspect of man and machine systems. Complex systems with no control fall over. Every example of it you can think of falls apart. With databases, data that isn't pruned becomes overgrown. Entropy sets in when complexity gets out of control.

"A lot of the search engines' index is junk, and although they have a lot of clever people, they can't prune it manually. And they have a lot of powerful technology too, but they just can't stop it.

"We're looking at the prospect of the end of the growth of search. Like Microsoft, search won't be going away anytime soon, but the search engines' power will weaken for several reasons."

The difference with AQA, he suggests, is because it's paid for its answers, and not for advertising. So keeping up the quality of the inhouse database is vitally important as it affects the quality of the service.

"So much so," he says, "that it is worth spending money on improving the data in the database. There is not the same incentive for search engines."

"At AQA we don't use Google. We don't use Wikipedia. We have good researchers who know where to go - to the primary sources."

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Apple fanbois SCREAM as update BRICKS their Macbook Airs
Ragegasm spills over as firmware upgrade kills machines
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.