Ask Google?
August 22, 2001 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Ask Google? For $3, Google staffers will research any question you might have and e-mail you the response. Not a new concept, obviously, but Google has a habit of improving radically on old ideas. Feel free to post your questions and their responses inside.
posted by waxpancake (37 comments total)
Potential questions:
"Where can I find information on hacking Google?"
"What's the best source for child porn online?"
"How can I make a McVeigh-style bomb?"
"What's the most effective way to kill myself?"
"How much do Google Q&A researchers earn per hour?"
posted by waxpancake at 12:13 PM on August 22, 2001

Cheap shot:
"What are you wearing?"
"Where do you live?"
"What's your phone number?"
and the best,
posted by tiaka at 12:17 PM on August 22, 2001

I've always thought this could have been an outlet for aspiring webloggers. Many classic blog authors are keen searchers and virtual warehouses of knowledge.

Lawrence Lee could have made a killing this way. If you've ever asked him a question, then got ten references going years back, all in a matter of minutes, you'd understand what I'm saying here.

Of course, I always thought I could have offered this service using the MetaFilter membership. Pose a question to "Ask Metafilter," then paypal a buck to the person with the best response.
posted by mathowie at 12:23 PM on August 22, 2001

Here's my question:
"What will be the cost for this service?" (It's a multiple choice question. I think I should get a discount.)
posted by barkingmoose at 12:25 PM on August 22, 2001

You know what's cool and scary at the same time? I seriously doubt those sample responses were written by humans. They simply pumped out some automated search-to-email scripts, and while the google employees sleep tonight, they'll be making thousands of dollars on this service.

Hopefully they have human editors double-check the bot accuracy, I'd guess that's why it takes a few days to get an answer.
posted by mathowie at 12:31 PM on August 22, 2001

Bizarre. They already dropped the price of option D down to $1.
posted by waxpancake at 12:31 PM on August 22, 2001

I just remembered something, there was a company doing the exact same thing for free. I think they went out of business. I think they've used the 'live help' type software and had a person answer the question, mostly by working the search engines.

Search engines are easy, I'd only use this service if it extended to other sources, say large private databases that require subscriptions and such.
posted by tiaka at 12:36 PM on August 22, 2001

I would ask, "Couldn't I just call, email, or chat with a public library and do this for free?"
posted by arco at 12:36 PM on August 22, 2001

The terms of use pretty much stamp out these funny questions. I was just about to ask about ditching a body..

Proper Use. You agree that you will use the Service in compliance with all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations. Furthermore, you agree that you will not submit questions that are unlawful, harassing, abusive, fraudulent, obscene, contain viruses, or are otherwise objectionable. You further agree not to submit questions designed to elicit responses that relate to illegal activity or that infringe upon another party's intellectual property rights. Google reserves the right not to respond to questions that violate the following conditions.

posted by perplexed at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2001

I worked for a company with a service like this, only it was done via telephone (live operator) and (from idealab) had a service like that a while back too.
posted by owillis at 12:58 PM on August 22, 2001

Maybe I'm being a little simplistic, but wouldn't it be easier to just use Google and search for the answer for free? Isn't that, after all, what their researchers are doing? All of the sample responses seem to include a web link for more information. Why bother emailing and then waiting for a response when you can do the same legwork the Google researchers are doing?
posted by eyeballkid at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2001

As a librarian I would suggest filling your information needs by calling your local library.

I'm guessing that my years of schooling in how to find information are way beyond the training given at Google (but who knows) and I'll even go so far as to use sources other than the internet.

All it will cost you is determined by your local government that funds the library (if you really hate the thought of your money going to answer peoples questions, call a public library somewhere else in the country, waste their money).
posted by obfusciatrist at 1:15 PM on August 22, 2001

NERAC is a company that does hi-quality searches of proprietary databases, dissertation abstracts, patent applications, and the like. I became familiar with them at my last job, where we often needed obscure technical information or patent info. This used to be big business pre-Web. Don't forget, a lot of useful information is still not available on the Internet even now. If Google is just searching its own database, the scalability of this service might be pretty limited.
posted by briank at 1:15 PM on August 22, 2001

eyeballkid: You could search for itself, if you know what you're doing. My mom, for example, uses Google but seems to be completely unable to find the things that only take me one or two queries to find, largely because she doesn't know how to use "quoted phrases" or -excluded words, and doesn't use the right keywords she should.

She's the kind of person that types URLs into search boxes to go to a website. I would guess that most people on the web at the moment are like her.
posted by waxpancake at 1:31 PM on August 22, 2001

Side note: i love it when the Google guys have some fun...
posted by kchristidis at 1:34 PM on August 22, 2001

I think I'll make a page doing this when I get home this evening, questions being $0.50 each. :-)

Google has one thing going for it, and that is being able to promote this on the Google home page. But what keeps anyone else from using Google to do this.
posted by benjh at 1:35 PM on August 22, 2001

Has anyone bothered to shell out the few dollars to try the service and see if they're just using Google to research? Well, I did. It's something obscure that I've been trying to find for months, and I've already done plenty of Googling. I gave them the 3+ days option to research it, so we'll see what they come up with.

In fact...let's race. First person to come up with the answer gets my $3:

I'm looking for a copy of the 1995 film Red Ribbon Blues, starring Ru Paul, Paul Mercurio, and Deb Mazar. It was originally distributed by Kushner-Locke, who consider me beneath their notice. Any format is good.

Go get 'em.
posted by frykitty at 1:48 PM on August 22, 2001

frykitty: I know "Red Ribbon Blues" was available on VHS shortly after its skewered theatrical release. It's out of print now, but you can probably find a used copy somewhere.

But I can top you with a film request: if anyone has either Billy Wilder's The Big Carnival/Ace in the Hole or uncut episodes of the first season of The New Twilight Zone, as they originally aired on CBS in the 1980's (not the cut syndicated nonsense they're airing intermittently on TNT), both of which have never been available in any video format, then what animal do I have to sleep with to get a copy?
posted by ed at 2:31 PM on August 22, 2001

" can probably find a used copy somewhere."

If it were that easy, I wouldn't be willing to pay someone to find it, but thanks anyway.

Someone has sent me a very, very helpful email. It will be interesting to see if Google can come close to that quality of info.
posted by frykitty at 2:54 PM on August 22, 2001

I think this service has potential. As for those that simply say "just search Google yourself", I would say it all depends on the questions you ask.

The key here is to ask tough, detailed questions that do not result in good google search results. The possibilities here are endless. We all know that searching for some things results in worthless search engine results. I spent hours looking for very specific information sometimes. I would definately give someone else $1 if they gave me the answer I was looking for.
posted by Witold at 3:19 PM on August 22, 2001

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
posted by crunchland at 3:26 PM on August 22, 2001

crunchland: Average amount of wood a woodchuck would chuck in a given day 698 butt cords of wood.
posted by riffola at 3:55 PM on August 22, 2001

I got that from the very first result in google :)
posted by riffola at 3:55 PM on August 22, 2001

A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
posted by Mick at 4:24 PM on August 22, 2001

Searching Google is an art form. Anyone can do it and come up with 32 pages of links, but only the few, the proud, the Googlelites (and by that, I don't mean just people who work at Google) can consistently craft searches to a full front page of positive results, or, the golden egg of Google, the vaunted "I'm Feeling Lucky" result...

If I had just one dollar for every answer I've found on Google for other people, I'd be a rich man...
posted by fooljay at 4:31 PM on August 22, 2001

Well, I guess I owe you $3, Riffola.
posted by crunchland at 4:42 PM on August 22, 2001

I've always thought that a service along these lines would be good, if it worked. But for $3 you are obviously being delt with by a machine, so what is it you are paying for?

The likely answer is, just someone who is versed at using their advanced search function, which you could be if you could just be bothered to read the instructions.
posted by Atom Heart Mother at 5:11 PM on August 22, 2001

Ok, here's a good one: I'm looking for the weblog/journal of one of the writers of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." I saw it six months to a year ago, but all the potential search strings ("comedy central daily show writer jon stewart weblog journal") are far too common to give me useful Google results. (Damn CC for giving their excellent show such an unsearchable name!) Anybody who finds this gets my $3.
posted by tweebiscuit at 5:42 PM on August 22, 2001

If it's what I'm thinking of, it wasn't a weblog. It was a Diary column for Slate by Allison Silverman, a staff writer at the Daily Show.
posted by waxpancake at 6:03 PM on August 22, 2001

Hm. That last example, "What is CPM?" is kinda sketchy. If I asked that, who says I was asking about cost per thousand? In fact, the first page of results on Google for "cpm" returns nothing at all about cost per thousand. I could have just as well been asking about the OS or any number of other things...
posted by whatnotever at 6:18 PM on August 22, 2001

The likely answer is, just someone who is versed at using their advanced search function, which you could be if you could just be bothered to read the instructions.

This is the basis of nearly our entire service economy... That and laziness...
posted by fooljay at 6:50 PM on August 22, 2001

Please, somebody ask this one!

"How many roads must a man walk down?"

Then we'll know if the Google guys are Douglas Adams fans (answer: "42") or Bob Dylan fans (answer: "the answer is blowing in the wind").
posted by sja at 7:13 PM on August 22, 2001

Well, when I visit the link now, it says that they are "no longer accepting questions."
I guess they've been swamped with questions, or made enough money off the people trying it out that they can retire.
(link visit was at 12:43am EST on Thursday August 23rd...dear Lord, what am I doing up still?)
posted by Grum at 9:42 PM on August 22, 2001

We MeFi'd Google!
posted by frykitty at 10:18 PM on August 22, 2001

So I asked Google a question and received my answer just now. It was great: extremely thorough (where Google could have given me three links, they gave me NINE) and accurate. Recommended.
posted by lbergstr at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2001

Here's my answer from Google. Don't miss that last part:

Hello from Google!

Today you asked us the following question:
"Where can I obtain a copy of the film Red Ribbon Blues? This is a 1995 film
starring Paul Mercurio, Ru Paul, and Deb Mazar. I have been unable to get a
reply from the original distributor, Kushner-Locke, so I'm out of luck on
that angle. At this point, any format would be great."

Sorry, it doesn’t look as if Red Ribbon Blues is available on VHS anymore.
We visited many online video shops that specialize in hard-to-find and
out-of-print tapes and even called a few local video stores but we didn’t
have any luck locating a copy. Phone calls to Kushner-Locke representatives
were unsuccessful. There is mention of it airing on HBO last year, as well
as in several film festivals.
We were unable to access Kushner-Locke’s website. If you haven’t already
done so, check eBay or use their Personal Shopper service. Below are some of
the links we visited to help answer your question.
By the way, the Google Team enjoyed reading the thread at over Metafilter.
Tell everyone that we say “Hi” ;-),4241,VID-V+++135775,00.html?,60,67781,00.html
posted by frykitty at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2001

frykitty: So what was the non-google email answer? If it means that much to you then I guess you could just rent it from blockbuster, say you lost it, and pay for it....
posted by mhh5 at 11:21 PM on April 28, 2002

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