What questions is AskMe best at? December 21, 2005 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Don't know if this is the right thread for this or not, but I'm curious as to people's thoughts. (If this is something I should, ironically enough, save for my Ask MeFi question, I can do that.)

What kind of questions do you think Ask MetaFilter is best at? It "queries the hive mind," as its motto puts it, but obviously it occasionally fails. Yet sometimes it spectacularly succeeds.

My own thoughts are that it's good at harvesting a bunch of different personal experiences with anything (consumer products, life strategies, weight loss things), and it's good at some aspects of general and specialized knowledge (whether it be factual or pop culture), because you're tapping the knowledge of all of MeFi's varied readers and respondents. But occasionally it seems to yield no results whatsoever, or not turn up an answer at all, and I'm curious if there's a pattern in those 'failures', so to speak.

So, what kind of knowledge and qeustions do you think AskMeFi is well-suited for finding? And, also, what kind of knowledge and questions do you think AskMeFi does not do so well at finding?
posted by WCityMike to MetaFilter-Related at 8:20 AM (40 comments total)

it's great at fixing your Apple computer.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:22 AM on December 21, 2005

It's bad at domain-specific questions where there is no one from that domain.
posted by smackfu at 8:27 AM on December 21, 2005

MetaTalk is pretty good at snarking about the need for 'more inside', usually.
posted by If I Had An Anus at 8:30 AM on December 21, 2005

It's great if you want some stab in the dark presented as fact.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:30 AM on December 21, 2005

I think it's not so good at generating advice on social interactions. What ever happened with the fatherless family badmouthed at a party by the ex-boyfriend, anyway? I mean, since the cops were called on the mom and all. . .
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:31 AM on December 21, 2005

AskMetafilter did provide a fantastic solution to my ant problem so it is excellent, in my opinion, for problems concerning ant infestation.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:35 AM on December 21, 2005

A figure emerges from the hazy dusk of epistemology.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:48 AM on December 21, 2005

Some things are hard to search for on the internet because search engine results just return a lot of noise. Imagine you're a teen and having trouble with your family's nudism that they adopt during hot weather. Then imagine searching for "hot nude teen". You'd be better off going directly to AskMe. And be sure to use the tags "hot", "nude", and "teen" because a lot of us filter questions based on those tags.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:52 AM on December 21, 2005

AskMe absolutely excels when it comes to the questions for which there is one, and only one, right answer, i.e., what was this book I read once about so-and-so, or what '70s-era toy did such-and-such. In these cases, you're basically just playing the odds that one out of the n thousand people to see the question will know the answer, and the odds come out in favor most of the time. AskMe is sometimes good for opinionated questions in which the answers might differ, such as the famous chili question which resulted in an award-winning recipe, but I wouldn't rely on it, particularly for trickier human-interaction questions.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:55 AM on December 21, 2005

- it is good for getting the latest recommendation of the Arcade Fire
- it is good if you don't know yet you need a therapist
- it seems to be helpful for vaguely gross sex problems which I never click
posted by dydecker at 9:04 AM on December 21, 2005

It's great for entertainment, especially when one should be writing a paper or washing the dishes.
posted by konolia at 9:13 AM on December 21, 2005

I've had two PC Bluetooth questions go basically unanswered (one had no responses at all). Given that they're fairly narrow in focus where AskMe does better with broader issues, I wasn't surprised. In general, if it's computer-related, it needs to be a fairly common issue or involve widely-used applications. If you have a niche problem, you're better off using a niche website or community.
posted by tommasz at 9:14 AM on December 21, 2005

It's perfect for getting rid of the body.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:17 AM on December 21, 2005

It's perfect for getting rid of the body.

See, that one totally needed a followup. Did the question's poster get away with it or not?
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:32 AM on December 21, 2005

Different kinds.
posted by juiceCake at 9:33 AM on December 21, 2005

It's good for finding out facts ("what song is this?", "what book was about...") or advice on things that have one or a few right answers ("I have a leak in my toilet...", "How should I back up my Windows XP machine?"), or when you're an amateur at something who wants to know how a experts do things ("What separates an amateur photo-shopper from an expert?", "I've just gotten into bestiality, what's the best way to clip my dog's nails and make his breath minty-fresh?")

It's not good for seeking advice that is limited to opinions. People get too judgmental ("What do you mean how do you keep your kid from looking at porn? As a fifteen year old boy myself I think what you need to do is show him MORE porn...", "if your religion says you shouldn't have sex then it sucks and you should convert because god doesn't really exist") and there's too much conflicting advice.

Medical and legal questions can be useful when one just wants to know where to start as long as you know enough to ignore the "facts" that people offer. You get what you pay for.

It's great when you want to find out what to do or where to go in a city. I took my wife out to an anniversary dinner at the top of a lighthouse, which I wouldn't have known about without AskMe. Blew her mind, it did.

Gift advice for "my girlfriend" or "my mom" is bad. Gift advice for "my brother who is into Precious Moments figurines and is specifically looking for one that has a dog licking up a dropped ice cream cone" or "my girlfriend who is a geek but doesn't have an MP3 player yet and my budget is $200.00") is good.

Sometimes it's good when there is no right answer but you just want thoughts from as many different people as possible. Sometimes it helps to see things from a new angle.
posted by bondcliff at 9:35 AM on December 21, 2005

TimeFactor: "Some things are hard to search for on the internet because search engine results just return a lot of noise."

That reminds me of something totally off-topic (hence the <small>). I once was trying to find an image of the iconic black-power-esque fist. Searching for "fist" was unsurprisingly unhelpful.

posted by Plutor at 9:47 AM on December 21, 2005

It cleans my business. My Lady Business. And I like that.
posted by brain_drain at 9:52 AM on December 21, 2005

I don't think there's really a pattern here. If questions are super specific you'll only get an answer if there just happens to be someone on MeFi who knows it. But the only way to find that out is to try.

The only questions of mine that haven't logged a satisfactory answer are shopping questions, where I was looking for a specific article under a certain amount.
posted by orange swan at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2005

This question is too broad, and there are no benchmarks to measure anything other than individual hearsay. I share WCM's curiosity about the metrics of MetaFilter, but some more thought should go into how the question should be phrased, and how useful answers could be derived. Other than that, it's pure chatfilter. Which doesn't unto itself bother me, but we should call it what it is.
posted by squirrel at 10:04 AM on December 21, 2005

What would you search for if you wanted to buy a "shopping cart" online? Good luck with that.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:14 AM on December 21, 2005

Regular exercise on hard surfaces, and nylabones.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:15 AM on December 21, 2005

What I never really understood are the "So my boyfriend just did x, and I'm thinkin about doing y, what do you think?" First, I don't know either party involved or anytihng beyond your side of it, so how can I possible give an informed answer? Second, why are you even seeking a stranger's advice? Third, being as this is a wide internety audience, you are going to get every answer in the book from "dump him immediately" to "marry him immediately," so why even bother asking?

Most of the time questions like this read like really desperate attempts for validation, which I don't think AskMe is very good at. Most of the time, actually, you'll get "what the hell are you thinking?!"-type answers.
posted by ChasFile at 10:16 AM on December 21, 2005

It does almost everything well. I think of Asking Metafilter even before Google whenever I want to know something, because I like the advice and conversation that comes from asking something here, even the most basic question. But I usually refrain and do the legwork on Google.

What I don't like:

People get a bit supercilious when anything emotive like spousal abuse or alcoholism comes up. I don't even look at those threads anymore. There are always 20-30 comments within the first 5 minutes with everyone piling on thinking they know best, and it eventually becomes very black and white. Which is fair enough, and certainly not a problem exclusive to this website. I just don't find those threads helpful at all, others might.

One which springs to mind was the husband who shouted at his wife one night after 3 beers. The advice was "GET OUT NOW. YOU MUST LEAVE FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR CHILDREN."
posted by fire&wings at 10:17 AM on December 21, 2005

AskMe has helped me:

Buy a House
Design a Logo
Purchase a Turkey
Name my Child

It was not so helpful:

Getting my sister to pass the Praxis II exam

I think on some of the more obscure questions, like my Praxis one linked above, a good answer is just a matter of luck. It depends on which users happen to be reading the site during the brief time when your question is on the front page.
posted by Otis at 10:17 AM on December 21, 2005

I've got good advice on:

I think it comes down to how much time the asker spends researching their question before hand; if you remove all the low-hanging fruit in your [more inside] ("hey dude, I already know about A, B, and C, which are on the first page of google") and you make your question VERY specific and try to imagine in advance what kinds of details people want and give them, then you'll tend to get detailed answers.

i see ask.me as the most successful and useful part of metafilter (for me, metafilter proper has definitely been wholly replaced by reading the delicious popular links which usually covers 85% of the material that's simulatenously on the front page or will be on the front page within a day or two. The other 14% is crap news which I don't want to read anyways, and then the other 1% I'll see sooner or later when it ends up on the delicious popular links because of mefi.
posted by fishfucker at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2005

I'd rather see more obscure questions asked and not answered than easily-Yahoo-able questions and personal advice posed. AxMe does not need to fill the latter's role since there's more than enough venues out there for those already.
posted by kcm at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2005

I think AskMe works best for answering specific "trivia" type questions (identify this song, book, or movie). It's also good for suggesting solutions to technical or engineering problems.

It doesn't seem to be good at solving "complex" questions whose answers aren't verifiably right or wrong.
posted by justkevin at 11:53 AM on December 21, 2005

Just because no one has mentioned it yet...I think it's good for mix tape/cd ideas. Even if some of the songs suggested suck balls, there's usually a ton of responses so there's a lot to choose from. For me, even learning about 2-3 new songs is rewarding.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 12:04 PM on December 21, 2005

questions which have a specific answer or questions that have no answer. not good at questions that have vague or multiple answers.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:18 PM on December 21, 2005

It's very, very, very bad for relationship advice.
posted by ascullion at 1:13 PM on December 21, 2005

I asked AskMe 17 questions

I asked: Civil Rights tour of Alabama, destinations, places to avoid?
I got: lots of good advice

I asked: I'm looking for advice on teaching basic Excel skills to adults in a classroom setting.
I got: handouts, wide-ranging helpful advice

I asked: I have a new health care provider via a state-sponsored program. They use my social security number as my ID number. What is the most effective way to fight this?
I got: some good advice, some less good advice

I asked: I am trying to find some software... I want a way to represent the people in my address book as dots on a [US] map
I got: nothing concrete but the satisfaction that variants of that question have been asked at least three more times.

I asked: What are your recipes for being a good guest, for weekend or overnight stays?
I got: good advice and the realization that MeFites are a really diverse bunch of people

I asked: My grant-funded contract job is wrapping up in two months. I've never left a job without quitting or taking another job before and I'm not sure what's expected or what to do. What did you do when you left your job?
I got: good advice, even some that I didn't ask for.

I asked: I'm a writer, in addition to being a librarian. I'd like to do more writing and get paid more for it than I have been getting paid, perhaps work on larger projects. Do I need an agent?
I got: a few people sent me contact info for their agents. Sadly, I decided not to do more writing.

I asked: Snowshoes! I'm looking at getting snowshoes, and I've read this thread but I'm looking for a bit more information.
I got: some info, not a ton but it was followed up with a few good emails. I never did get snowshoes, I stil think about it.

I asked: What are your house pr0n rules?
I got: in trouble with my boyfriend.

I asked: Is there any inexpensive way to get to Australia [Sydney/Adelaide] by plane from the US [Vermont/Boston]?
I got: an answer "no"

I asked: Taming a stray cat. We have a young stray cat that has been coming around our house a lot lately. I think it is living in our garage and I'd like to make an honest house cat out of it.
I got: some advice, not a ton. Cat went away before I could try it out

I asked: Klutzyboyfriendfilter! My boyfriend dropped his 867Mhz G4 Powerbook and now it's busted. We're looking into repair options.
I got: an address of a place who fixed it for half what apple was quoting

I asked: How many words are in a 30 minute teevee show? I am writing the text to a half hour "How to use our library's historical database" show...
I got: a few responses with solid info.

I asked: Gas tank leak. I drive a 96 Honda Accord with about 100K miles on it. I've been noticing a gas smell in my car for the past 200 miles or so, more noticable when I fill-up. How immediately dangerous is this?
I got: predictable "go to the mechanic NOW" advice which I sort of ignored and got a new gas tank in about ten days.

I asked: Etiquette question: when weddings and professional obligations clash, what do you do?
I got: good advice from people who were like "why are you even thinking about this?" which helped make my decision.

I asked: In April I moved from Washington state...
I got: non-specific advice, but enough to asnwer my question

I asked: Using a PDA as a remote control -- I'm a bit of a bum and the one thing I don't like about watching DVDs on my iBook is having to get up and mess with the thing to start/stop/pause the movie...
I got: a few pieces of advice that, because I am a bt of a bum, I've been too lazy to follow up on.

In short, stuff that is really specific either hits or misses, but often hits. General questions, especially of the "I don't have enough experience to interpret the data I have" go really well, just like home and car repair. Questions that have to do with moral/ethical issues are hard, because a lot of people see their own choices as either non-choices, or a bit more black and white than other people do (read the santa claus thread for some examples, or any thread about guns or drugs) and sometimes people get really snippy. Job questions can also be like that, some people are really into their jobs and the corporate world of business and ethics and etiquette and others are more like "fuck the man" about similar things. Dress codes go the same way as do any questions about pubic hair or "what's hot/pretty?" Gift buying and Mix CD questions go well. "I want to/did kill an animal" questions go badly. Political questions "WTF was Dick Cheney thinking?" or "Is there any evidence for this cockamamie thing that Bush said?" don't go well. General medical questions go well, specific ones do not. Questions where more people feel that they might have answers go well, questiosn that clearly rely on only expert advice where expert is defined narrowly go less well. The good answers seem to lie not only in the answers themselves but in the synthesis and interplay between the answers so questions that get more replies, tend to have answers that seem better, wisdom-of-crowds style.
posted by jessamyn at 1:18 PM on December 21, 2005

The good answers seem to lie not only in the answers themselves but in the synthesis and interplay between the answers so questions that get more replies, tend to have answers that seem better, wisdom-of-crowds style.

This is both true, and awesome.
posted by gleuschk at 2:36 PM on December 21, 2005

This is both true, and awesome.

That's our jess!

I asked: What are your house pr0n rules?
I got: in trouble with my boyfriend.

Heh. If you ask about pr0n, it must be anon!
posted by languagehat at 3:11 PM on December 21, 2005

Ask MeFi excells when there is one person, or a small group of people, who specialize in an area (ikkyu2 on medical stuff [although this is a horrible place to ask those questions], the Library Mafia on books I read 20 years ago, jeanmari on house repair, languagehat on linguistics, etc. You can use those people to reality check the other answers (and, often folks also give good info in those areas).

My favourite thing about Ask MeFi is when someone asks a question I always wanted to know the answer to, but never quite got around to articulating.

It sucks on questions that are culturally bound, unless those are thoughtful questions about cultural differences. I include "my boyfriend y's, so I want to x" questions in that.
posted by QIbHom at 3:30 PM on December 21, 2005

Now I wish I could take that comma back.
posted by gleuschk at 3:40 PM on December 21, 2005

I have had pretty bad luck getting answers in AskMe, so I would say it does poorly at extremely obscure edge-case technical questions.
posted by kindall at 5:11 PM on December 21, 2005

(I did get very good advice for my question about scenic spots in Utah, but it was only one of the questions I've asked.)
posted by kindall at 5:13 PM on December 21, 2005

i like open ended questions with no right or wrong answer.
posted by brandz at 7:46 PM on December 21, 2005

This question is a duplicate.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:23 PM on December 21, 2005

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