What questions work the best with Askme? Worst? August 21, 2005 10:11 PM   Subscribe

Ask.Meta Question askers/answerers.

What does Ask.metalk work really well with? What does it suck with?
posted by filmgeek to MetaFilter-Related at 10:11 PM (35 comments total)

I've been thinking about this for awhile.

What things has Ask given us great responses for?
What things has Ask sucked completely at?
What things were you amazed that it gave dead on answers with?
posted by filmgeek at 10:11 PM on August 21, 2005

Really good with tech questions.

Hit or miss with "name this X" questions (it's done surprisingly well with very few clues on some movies/songs/books etc., not as well on others).

No way to gauge, really, how well it's done on the "Dear AskMe" ones.
posted by Tuwa at 10:28 PM on August 21, 2005

I think the business advice ones are good, as it is sometimes hard to get a non-biased opinion, someone with no interest in either outcome.

I think 99% of the "Dear AskMe" questions end up with the writer hearing what he/she wants to hear, especially everything dealing with love. While interesting to read, I wish most of them would go away. I also detest the "How do I lose my virginity", "I'm feeling ugly" questions. From the few college psychology classes I was forced to take the one thing I learned is that quick advice never fixes anything. It feels fun talking about it, like you'd talk to your friend.
posted by geoff. at 10:50 PM on August 21, 2005

It does really well with questions that can be answered in the hour or so after the question first appears. Anything that can't be answered within that time frame, not so much.
posted by dg at 10:51 PM on August 21, 2005

It sucks for "What should I do in New York" questions.

Not so much in the answering, as in the asking. Again. And Again. And Again. Arrrrrgh!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:55 PM on August 21, 2005

To me, it seems as "efficient" as it can be with clearly-defined questions that can be said to have non-vague answers (whatever those answers may be).

Technical questions are the best example of this, because (when written properly) the question can be clearly laid out, with an answer sample space that is clearly delineated, with little vagueness in the correctness of the response, i.e. either the geegaw works when you flip a switch, or it doesn't — there isn't a mystery about the answer's "correctness".

AskMe seems often "inefficient" with vaguely-defined questions, or questions that are designed in such a way as to result in a wide variety of answers, usually contradictory.

One example includes anonymous questions, since we have no accepted, commonly implemented mechanism for communicating with the person asking the question, to request clarification on any points within. This results in many different and contradictory answers.

Another example includes questions that require contribution of a moral or experiential component from the answerer and therefore are not "correct" in the usual sense, e.g. Q: "My husband is cheating on me, so am I doing the right thing in separating from his sorry ass?", resulting in A1:"I'm a Catholic, and divorce is wrong" and A2:"I was abused by my previous husband; get out of that relationship as quickly as possible."

Neither answer is "wrong" or "right" per se, and any answer's utility in that case boils down to the morality and life experience of the person asking the question, who decides which answer "works" from personal preference.

Most of the questions in the second category can be put into the "chatty" category that many (myself included) do not like so much, because it makes AskMe "sucky", especially given how quickly those types of questions push genuinely interesting questions out of the way. /opinion
posted by Rothko at 10:55 PM on August 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

How to Dispose of a Dead Body
posted by geekyguy at 11:11 PM on August 21, 2005

I think ask.me is obviously most effective in dealing with questions with solid, correct answers. 'How do I fix this?' such that fixing it proves the answer correct, or 'What was the title of that?'

I think it's next most useful at answering esoteric dear.me type questions. There are no right or wrong answers, but there's a hell of a lot of perspective in the answers. Does it solve anybody's problems with the 'right' answer? No. But I've asked a couple of 'how do I cope with this crap' type questions and got a lot of help and support. It's vague and hard to quantify, but it's an aspect of community that I find valuable. It's not quite the factual goal of ask.me, but I still think it's incredibly useful. 'Recommend me some X' questions have a similar vague, unquantifiable community nature to them.

It's not so good with moral quandaries because they tend to dissolve into mefites arguing with each other, as in the blue. It's not great with legal or medical questions - because although there's a lot of good useful information in there (and there's value in the discussion), there's also an absolute metric tonne of crap that gets posted, as well.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:15 PM on August 21, 2005

How to Dispose of a Dead Body

posted by grouse at 12:00 AM on August 22, 2005

The more specific the possible answer the better. Hence technical and practical questions are good. My personal least favorite are along the lines of "I have a couple of free days in [city], what is there to do?" How the heck should someone who doesn't know you know what you might like to do?
posted by normy at 12:14 AM on August 22, 2005

I think AskMe is terrible for questions about relationships or personal life matters. These questions are really common and I usually cringe when I read them. Respondents tend to give kneejerk gut reactions, or relate the asker's problem to something that once happened to them, or a friend, or a figure they just imagined. In any case, the responses usually wash over all the little complexities of scenario that would doubtlessly change the advice. When it comes to intimate matters, very slight changes in personality type or the specifics of a relationship can demand very different courses of action. Part of the problem is in AskMe's format: there's just no way to communicate everything that needs to be said in a little [more inside]. But a bigger problem is that respondents aren't trained to read between the lines... it seems to me that a lot of times AskMe answerers read about someone's problem and think "Hey! That's like how I once felt!" or, "I wouldn't stand for that! Dump her!" Complicated situations get reduced to black-and-white rules of conduct formed out of a parochial and selfish conception of what people are like.

Occasionally you get an excellent response or an incredible thread, but usually they're awful.
posted by painquale at 12:58 AM on August 22, 2005

Ask works most of the time, but I would still like to see some sort of follow up system. I see a lot of best answers marked that contain some really obscure, unusual or untestable advice that have been marked as best because they seem like a good idea, not because they have been proven to work.

Searching back through archived threads and reading the best advice is next to useless because Bob had to mark his best answers before he got to try out that one restaurant in Paris. Or Bob had to choose the best advice for scraping ice off his car windshield when he asked the question in August. Too much guessing, not enough real experience. Threads should be closed and archived save for the original posted who can post a follow up or at least mark best answer at a much later date.

I agree the personal advice threads are the worse.
posted by fire&wings at 2:55 AM on August 22, 2005

I feel kind of icky when someone asks something that gets asked regularly, and people still write long elaborate answers that say the same things as the previous thread.

That and the questions with a million possible answers ("Which cellphone/camcorder/etc should I buy?"). Recommendation questions are in general are a bit dud, unless its about something where there's a limited number of options, or strong differentiation between products.
posted by cillit bang at 3:37 AM on August 22, 2005

While I agree that the 'dear askme' questions aren't probably successful when using a strict textbook psychological exegesis of the thread, more often than not people want to hear a range of stories so that they know their situation and thoughts sit somewhere in the bell curve of normal experience. To that end, both the questioner and many readers alike seem to gain some form of comfort, even if it is only the community particpation grouphug conversation. Other people of course would redirect them to metachat. *shrug*

If I dislike any questions -- and this is where askme tends to be less 'successful' -- it is those where the question is unclear, poorly written +/- ambiguous. Half the ensuing thread is clarification.

But then I don't bother looking at what doesn't interest me one way or another (including NYC-repeaterfilter).
posted by peacay at 5:05 AM on August 22, 2005

I agree, the worst questions that annoy me are the ones where it is clear that the asker has not bothered to do any or enough work in google or wikipedia for example to get a basic idea of the answer and expects others to do the work for them.

I don't mind the opinion ones since there are intelligent people here that probably can give reasonable opinions worth listening to. And sometimes there are things that you don't want to ask from people you know IRL.

But I agree, probably my pet hate are the ones where the asker does not bother to take the time to word the question so that others know what it is that they actually want to know and the thread just becomes clarification, that just usually makes me want to skip it.
posted by keijo at 7:42 AM on August 22, 2005

I've found that for my questions, the longer the [more inside] is, the better answer I get. It also helps if I pre-emptively describe what a bad answer to the question would be, and describe the form that I believe a good answer will take. Questions on "serious" subjects fare better for me than questions on lighthearted topics. I've never asked any personal "DearMe" type questions here.

This question was successful for me, but not because of the answers posted in the thread--someone who was not a MeFi member tracked down my e-mail address and sent me what came close to being a custom-made syllabus for a newcomer to analytic philosophy. It has made up a portion of my reading list for many months now.

I would judge this to be my most successful question, though it could have easily turned out otherwise. I was afraid that the responses would veer off into the territory of bashing Catholic doctrine, so I mentioned that in the [more inside] section. Also, the exhaustive nature of the question seemed to encourage equally exhaustive and on-topic responses--look at the length of them in comparison to the average AskMe answer.

This question didn't do so well, though it provided some useful advice. The frivolity of the subject matter encouraged people to generate more noise than signal, advice from different posters was contradictory, and near the end of the thread there were a couple of needless moral pronouncements.

For another misfire, see this question--the tendency of some MeFites to moralize led them to ignore one of the question's explicitly stated basic premises. Had I another chance to post that question, I would have made a pre-emptive statement beforehand (even though the question had more of a lighthearted intent than some others I've posted).
posted by Prospero at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2005

The worst are the anonymous questions without enough information. Presumably this will change when a pony arrives.

AskMe seems surprisingly good with home improvement questions.

However, AskMe is best with "What's this tune in my head? It goes dah di da dum" questions. Incredible.
posted by Aknaton at 8:30 AM on August 22, 2005

I have had some really good answers to "please recommend some music" questions, which while not a yes/no kind of question, helps at least point you in the right direction.
posted by signal at 8:31 AM on August 22, 2005

If you can put the text of your question into google, hit the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, and read an answer, you should not submit this question to Ask-Metafilter.

How do I lose my virginity?

People doing this are also doing these things:
*fuck on cocaine
*Try a lot of drugs
*own an alarm clock

I was precocious, and got the alarm clock first.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:40 AM on August 22, 2005

I'd like to reiterate that I still don't quite get it what is so horrible about personal/life/relationship questions (I've got one I'm considering asking myself). I don't think most people here are dumb enough to take a random guy's advice in the style of "Dump her now!", often it is useful to just get new viewpoints on issues in life. And all of us think sometimes drive ourselves into mental dead ends where we can't think of novel solutions. And often it is not the best idea to ask friends or family who know you too well and have their own well-established opinions. But that's just my opinion. In the end, if you want to just read questions on buying a Mac or PC and nothing about relationships, that's why we now have tags.
posted by keijo at 8:46 AM on August 22, 2005

I think Ask.Me is least useful for legal and financial questions, because there are so many grey areas involved and so much that's specific to each case. "Should I sell my house now?" or "Should I hire a lawyer and go to court for XYZ?" are questions that certified experts would disagree over. Answers may cover many possible solutions, but identifying the "best" is totally subjective. In the end, a lot of posters reply, "Thanks, I guess I'll go talk to a lawyer/accountant/broker/insurance agent."

Anyone asking a personal questions, on the other hand, expects a wide range of subjective answers and personal anecdotes. Gems like this thread aren't as rare as you might think.
posted by junkbox at 9:03 AM on August 22, 2005

Some of the very best answers have been to questions that were fishing for ideas regarding home decor or gardening. Very creative ideas.
posted by LarryC at 9:11 AM on August 22, 2005

I suppose you are right, least useful are actually legal/financial and IMHO especially medical ones. To all of these the answer is invariably, "this is my opinion but you should see a specialist adviser". But yes, people asking personal questions are indeed expecting personal anecdotes, since there are many situations where it helps just to know that somebody has been in the same situation or can give a new idea even if it's not worth pursuing. Even if not, it can lead to a new train of thought.
posted by keijo at 9:12 AM on August 22, 2005

The kind I find least useful are the whiny "How can I be what I'm not" questions. (Also, the seemingly endless stream of technical queries involving Apple computers.) I like the relationship questions for their mix of personal stories and easily-dismissable knee-jerk Dr. Laura-style judgements. The results from "I like this - recommend more like it" can be fantastic. Essentially, IMO, they're all good -- easy enough to skip those which lack interest.
posted by Rash at 10:32 AM on August 22, 2005

keijo: I'd like to reiterate that I still don't quite get it what is so horrible about personal/life/relationship questions... often it is useful to just get new viewpoints on issues in life

That's true, but most people don't offer their answers that way. If the question were "I'd like to hear your guys' break-up stories," that would be considered chatfilter; AskMe's supposed to be about dispensing answers, so people structure their responses accordingly and launch into little sermons. Given the opportunity, people are glad to sermonize.

Seeing as people are listing AskMe pet peeves, I'll add one. I hate it when people put their question in the [more inside] section. The whole question being asked should be available on the front page of the green. It's always annoying to have to click down a level when you see something cryptic like Question about oranges and vitamin C... [more inside] or OzoneFilter! [more inside]
posted by painquale at 11:55 AM on August 22, 2005

I agree with much of what was said above (except that I *do* like the "Dear AskMe" type personal/relationship questions).

I want to also point out the phenomenal success of the porn in the woods question and the life altering experiences questions. I rolled my eyes about both of them when they first appeared, but when I checked up on them after a day or two I was really surprised at how well the threads progressed. I'm not sure that they answered questions that needed to be answered, but I felt that they really opened my eyes to Meta* as a community.
posted by jasper411 at 11:57 AM on August 22, 2005

It would help to define what "work well" means.

I assume you don't mean "what gets/doesn't get deleted" (though that is probably the most useful definition) because there have been plenty of other Meta threads about that.

If you mean, "which have been most/least helpful to the asker (or to the community at large)," that's pretty hard to quantify, though I guess you could look for questions that have best answers checked.

If you mean "which questions spark the best/most interesting discussions," I would say (and this is completely subjective) it's often the personal-type questions that get deleted.

My favorite type of questions are All Of Them. I love getting up in the morning (or coming home at night) and browsing dozens of interesting questions. It's really fun if the first question is totally different from the second question.

I like questions that I didn't know I was interested in until I read the discussion.

I agree with others here that anon questions (though great in theory) are the least useful, because there needs to be a way for anon posters to provide more info later in the discussion. And they will never be REALLY useful until responders can reply anonymously. Which (based on Matt's statements) will never happen.
posted by grumblebee at 12:20 PM on August 22, 2005

I like to read, ask, and answer questions about:


The resultant lists (Best chili recipes, songs about meat, quirky biographies, movies for grandmas) are a fabulous resource. They really should be collected into a book.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:22 PM on August 22, 2005

My favourite Ask Me's are the Dear Ask Me. Sure, I could go down to the local bar and eavse drop on a bunch of strangers, but this is way more entertaining. Conversely, the Tech questions are often the worst. Most of them could be answered by hanging out on the appropriate OS's board.
posted by haqspan at 1:38 PM on August 22, 2005

I like to answer questions relating to food, travel, music and "girly stuff".

The questions from anon users spark up enough interest to read them, some of them are little ambiguous.

The legal/medical questions are interesting but rarely answer them.
posted by Chimp at 1:44 PM on August 22, 2005

Thanks to Ask.MF I received my rebate from Brother.
posted by Mack Twain at 2:21 PM on August 22, 2005

Prospero, thanks for linking to the Churrascaria thread -- I forgot to check back and never saw your description of the amazing meal.

You're right about the forgotten-name thread; people really don't bother paying attention to the question sometimes. Or as one commenter said: "Oh, but I guess we are ignoring the main question, which is a challenge to think of a way to disclose the name." Ayup.
posted by languagehat at 3:38 PM on August 22, 2005

The best ones, I think, are ones that need a subtly nuanced, educated response with personal thought given to the parameters of the question posed. If I just wanted a fill in the blank, yes/no response, I'd *fucking* Google it! (as we say around here). This is the benefit of a huge, and in many cases, like-mined community.
posted by slimslowslider at 4:29 PM on August 22, 2005

Sucks at: Getting an answer to any question which mentions consumption of alcohol, as this is apparently a sign of alcoholism or problem drinking requiring instant intervention in lieu of answering the question.
posted by desuetude at 11:50 AM on August 23, 2005

It's great on anything that is Googlable but you have failed to be able to Google.

It's great for collecting divers opinions, as well as the life experiences of a bunch of young Bohemian hipster left-wing type folks.

It's fabulous for getting information on epilepsy. :P

Sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll are all pretty well covered, as are travel, food, and anything computer-related.

It's piss-poor with things that can't be Googled, require experienced judgment to answer correctly, or are politically contentious, illegal, or unethical.

There's also a good deal of humor, pathos, and general run of human-interest stuff as an incidental finding.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:20 AM on August 25, 2005

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