Welcome to Online Insider ...
... the editorial blog by Marydee Ojala, Editor of ONLINE: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals. ONLINE Insider intends to extend the reach of the print publication, presenting a more timely commentary on the products, people, and events that shape today's online world. It explores new technologies as they impact the working lives of information professionals, explains resources for specific topic areas, and expounds on information management tools and techniques.

Q&A Stats

Marydee Ojala @ 7:29 am

Hitwise reported that U.S. visits to question and answer sites increased 118% from last year, with Yahoo Answers gleaning 74% of the traffic. In second place was WikiAnswers, from Answers.com. Third was Answerbag and fourth was Ask MetaFilter. Hitwise interprets the popularity of the Q&A sites as showing the importance of the social network in sharing knowledge contributed by community experts. If the popularity is so great, why did Google leave this particular playing field? Also, it strikes me that the quality of the questions is often not very high. In fact, many of them simply reflect the laziness of the questioner. Not only do they not know how to frame a good question, they don’t really care to lift a finger to try and find information on their own. Research apparently consists of asking the question online. The quality of the answers varies tremendously and does not always reflect either knowledge or expertise. A major exception is WikiAnswers, which grounds its answering mechanism in trusted, reliable sources.

I suppose there is room in the information world for trivia questions, but glorifying both trivial (which is not exactly the same thing as trivia) questions and answers based on opinion rather than facts rubs me the wrong way. I do sincerely hope that, when the question-askers have something of real import to ask, they won’t rely 100% on any of these Q&A sites, but will look for qualified answer sources. Yes, like librarians! And researchers who cite their sources.

Speaking of expertise, the next issue (May/June 2008) of ONLINE will have an article by Bobby Brody exploring some "real" expert sites. She begins by defining expertise, then notes you can find experts at places like professional and trade associations, government agencies, executive network sites such as LinkedIn, and Who’s Who type publications.

Workarounds

Marydee Ojala @ 7:19 pm

I’ve been thinking about the wierd things that happen in theoretically stable online environments. Karen Blakeman mentioned recently that, in a hotel in England, her Google connection was suddenly German. Turned out the telephone provider to the hotel was German. I had the same experience in Prague once, only my Google there was French. Same reason, though, the telephone provider to the hotel was French. In trying to circumvent seeing web pages in languages other than English, I’ve long tried entering www.google.co.uk in these situations, trying to invoke the UK version of Google. Last year I experimented with www.google.us, which almost always works. I don’t know if the .us version actually replicates the .com version I get on my home machine, but it’s close enough for horseshoes (as my Dad used to say).

Over the weekend, a frequent author for ONLINE and a talented book author, Michael Banks, asked me if I could see the Search Within the Book feature on Amazon. I could on my laptop, but when I checked it on my office desktop, the feature had disappeared. It seems that Amazon is experimenting with the feature. Mike’s workaround is brilliant. He goes to www.amazon.ca (the Canadian version of Amazon) or www.amazon.de (the German version). I checked the UK version, www.amazon.co.uk, and Search Within the Book was there.

I’ve been annoyed for the past few days with Twitter search not finding people I know are signed up with Twitter. Today it worked perfectly. Everything I couldn’t find last week I found today.

Lessons learned: Nothing is always as it seems. Patience is a virtue. Look for the workarounds.

 

 

 

 

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