Google quietly acquired Superpod, a startup founded by former Google employees that created a question-and-answer app, Axios reported. The app lets users post questions and get expert answers within an hour.
The acquisition may help Google to expand the features of Google Assistant, the search giant’s voice-powered platform that trails Amazon Alexa in market share. Google paid less than $60 million to buy some of Superpod’s assets and hire co-founders Sophia Yang and William Li, Axios reported.
Superpod shut down its app in September as part of a transition into a “larger project,” Fortune reported. The startup received funding from Precursor Ventures, Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever, Social Capital and the House Fund, according to AngelList.
Digital Q&A services have proven popular with consumers when developers get them right but the space is also littered with a number of entries that have come and gone. Google hasn't, so far, discussed its plans for Superpod, but the tech giant likely will find a way to integrate the startup’s technology into its search features and Google Assistant. The deal for Superpod suggests Google may see a growing need for a concierge-like solution for helping consumers easily get answers to their questions by simply asking it of their smart speaker at home or smartphone. Last summer, Google launched Cameos, a video Q&A that let's users — primarily celebrities, movie studios, musicians and others — answer questions about themselves and post them, in another indication that Google sees this as a potential area for growth.
Asking questions is the most popular activity on smart speakers. Google already has an advantage over Amazon in supporting this use case for smart speakers given the company's role as a search leader, with a report from 2017 showing that Google Home is six times likelier than Amazon Alexa to answer questions correctly. Google, which is aggressively marketing its smart speakers, currently trails Amazon in the smart speaker market, although app versions of their services are available on Android and iOS devices. Amazon's share of the smart speaker market is expected to drop to 63% next year from 67% in 2018 as the e-commerce giant faces more competition from Google and a greater threat from other companies, researcher eMarketer forecasts. Google's market share is set to inch upward to 31% next year from 30% in 2017.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone started Jelly with a similar idea to Superpod but its app was considered a flop. Pinterest bought the startup in 2017 for its search technology and shut down the Jelly app within a month. The Q&A app space also includes Yahoo! Answers and Quora, which lets people find crowdsourced answers that get voted up or down by the broader community.