What is AskMe best at? September 10, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Which topics is AskMetafilter best at answering? I'm not referring to specific questions for which you've received the most helpful response; rather I'm wondering if people find that (for example) computer hardware questions receive more accurate and helpful answers than medical questions, or that AskMe is particularly bad at answering another type of question.

Please correct my poor grammar; I know the question was badly phrased.
posted by desjardins to MetaFilter-Related at 8:00 AM (64 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Name this book/movie/song is usually a winner. AskMe is usually good at coming up with names for anything, whether it's creating novel names or locating pre-existing ones.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:08 AM on September 10, 2008


Far and away obscure, ungooglable knowledge/trivia questions.
posted by Mitheral at 8:08 AM on September 10, 2008


Please correct my poor grammar; I know the question was badly phrased.

That's bad grammar, and your sentence was poorly phrased. Kheee!
posted by heyho at 8:15 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Should I dump the motherfucker already?"
posted by ardgedee at 8:16 AM on September 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


I really don't think there is a topic. For one, who is answering on a particular day will effect it. Also, there is a constant but small chance of running into somebody who just took a look into a certain topic or had a certain experience, or whatever.

In another direction though, there is an optimal level of research and specificity in questions. If you're asking for details beyond what is already in the archives, very specific to your gear, or highly specialized and specific in other ways, answers can be disappointing.

If you really, really want to hear about a category.. It is possible (though it might be observer's bias) that there are more strong answers to those highly researched and detailed questions in liberal arts topics.
posted by Chuckles at 8:24 AM on September 10, 2008


Far and away obscure, ungooglable knowledge/trivia questions.

And Mitheral has the better answer again :)
posted by Chuckles at 8:26 AM on September 10, 2008


There might be a bit of bias in saying, oh, "the computer questions" because it can be much easier to tell when you have a right answer there.
posted by Pronoiac at 8:44 AM on September 10, 2008


Far and away obscure, ungooglable knowledge/trivia questions.

I'd extend this question to include trivia that is (are?) googleable, but only with bizarre word combinations that most searchers wouldn't immediately think of.
posted by inigo2 at 8:46 AM on September 10, 2008


AskMetafilter is best at answering questions about paleoanthropology.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:52 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


AskMe is good at answering most questions. It only falls short when it comes to providing super-specific or obscure information or when the question is very poorly written, and sometimes it will take a turn for the unhelpfully self-righteous. I was not able to find trench coat fabric with the help of AskMe, and no one seemed to have experience with buying power of sale properties. And I got pissed off when I posted a thread on for a friend concerning fun responses to comments and questions about her Mennonite bonnet — everyone decided to lecture my friend on how to take the comments rather than providing witticisms as asked. From that experience I learned how important it is to frame a question so you get the kind of answer you want.
posted by orange swan at 9:09 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't think it is a matter of the question type so much as there is generally one bad answer type that persistently populates AskMe. When people ask for information that is specific to a certain field of study or profession and people with no background in that field proffer answers based on intuition or deductive reasoning, it's more often than not wrong. The inner workings of complicated systems like courts, hospitals, mental health, technology etc. aren't easily deduced by logic from outside the system itself. That's why you need to be trained and specifically educated to work within it.

Conversely, when someone asks a question pertaining to a narrow knowledge field and someone within that field steps up to provide a precise and accurate answer, that's when AskMe is at its best.

Beyond that is an incredibly broad region of more general knowledge type stuff that I think AskMe does very well, because flat-out incorrect answers aren't really very damaging, here, and opinions are frequently helpful or at least informing to some degree, so most people have something of use to contribute, even if it's only the intention of being helpful.
posted by The Straightener at 9:11 AM on September 10, 2008


AskMe is terrible1 at answering my questions. Either that, or I am great at asking the unanswerable.

1 At the time of this posting, askme has a less than 50% success rate in answering my questions. This may actually be on par with others' experience; I wouldn't know.
posted by Eideteker at 9:16 AM on September 10, 2008


In my experience, the type of questions that get answered most thoroughly and most satisfactorily have been:

(1) I really like this book/song/recipe and here are the reasons why; please recommend others that are similar.

(2) I have a moderate but not debilitating habit/quirk/issue that I would like to change; what concrete steps can I take to change it?

"What is this thing I remember from my childhood?" and "Identify this bug" also seem to get answered well.

(AskMe has answered ungoogleable and seemingly unanswerable questions for me within minutes, though I'm still looking for that beef truck song. And I've learned that it is always best to overexplain your question.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:32 AM on September 10, 2008


This is a hard question to answer. I suppose we should have some sort of baseline. I mean, there are specialized boards and groups that are better at answering specific questions than AskMe (e.g. rec.arts.sf.written for science fiction novels and stories) but I can't think of one that is of such high quality in such a wide variety of fields.
posted by Kattullus at 9:33 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


AskMe is bad at assessing how spoiled your food is.
posted by GuyZero at 9:36 AM on September 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


Dude, AskMe helped me find my lost keys, inside my own apartment! AskMe can answer anything if you frame it right.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:39 AM on September 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


If you get to know the personalities of some of the more prolific MeFites, you realize where they can be helpful in their specific areas of expertise. For example, I wish I could make ikkyu2 and docpops my personal physicians in real life. Although they can't give you specific medical advice over the internets, people like them are really good at pointing you in the right directions.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:49 AM on September 10, 2008


(disclaimer re: data not being plural of anecdote may apply....)

I've asked 11 questions. Of those, 6 got great answers: name of a doohickey, 3 travel-related questions, a pet/psychology question, and a "pick a haircut" question. (I love my new haircut.) 4 were not-quite useful, although they gave me good food for research. Curiously, all were technology-related. The last...well, I was not about to teach my sister how to drive a stick. :)

I've also asked 2 anonymous questions, both of which were answered very helpfully! One job-interview-related, the other family-related.

Reading other people's questions, I'm boggled at how often and how well identification-type questions get answered: books, music, doohickeys. And good question-asking style is also a strong determinant of getting good answers, IMHO.

Oh, and see also something Jessamyn posted on Monday at librarian.net!
posted by epersonae at 9:51 AM on September 10, 2008


This motherfucker: should he be dumped?
posted by boo_radley at 10:07 AM on September 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


SHOULD I EATS THIS?
posted by klangklangston at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2008


There's a bit of data on this; you could measure how many questions in each category get "best answers" marked in them. There's all sorts of biases in the data, of course, but there may be enough signal to give you some sort of empirical answer.

Me, I tend to use AskMe for questions with common sense answers where the common sense is in a domain I know nothing about. E.g. What can cause a house's lights to flash? I asked that here because I knew there'd be people on AskMe who actually understood power and expected the answer was simple for someone who new about it.
posted by Nelson at 10:24 AM on September 10, 2008


These are the kinds of questions Ask Metafilter is best at. Here's me doing one in under three minutes.

Going to be a good while yet before there's an electronic associative intelligence capable of bettering the AskMe Hivemind when it comes to elegantly handling requests with such limited information.
posted by Ryvar at 10:28 AM on September 10, 2008




I'll just say that without AskMe disposing of all these corpses really would have been a chore.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:52 AM on September 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


AskMe's ability to dredge up hazily-recalled cultural ephemera from the collective memory of the userbase may not be the most useful thing the site does, but it's something I always enjoy seeing happen.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:02 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I made you a botulism but AskMetafilter made me eated it!
posted by The Straightener at 11:25 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Subjective, specific questions. Things that require some human kind of skill, taste or judgment: like "how can I fix this appliance", "how can I resolve this social/work situation", "what would someone like who also likes X".

When it comes to objective, factual information, it seems to me that Ask MeFi usually only tells you the kind of thing you could also find with Wikipedia, IMDB and advanced Googling (trying several exact phrases for instance).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:31 AM on September 10, 2008


AskMe is very bad at answering questions the best answer for which might involve the regrettable yet necessary mutilation of a cat.
posted by found missing at 11:36 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


One's with clear cut answers good. Ones with opinions about relationships not so good.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:45 AM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "help me identify this song or book"-type questions have excellent hit rates.

But I don't think those sorts of questions are what AskMe is best at. Metafilter has all sorts of experts in their fields lurking about, and sometimes, out of the blue, you get an incredibly detailed and scholarly response to some random question that turns out to be deeper than the asker thought. The paleoanthropology question above is a great example. You can't tell when you're going to get one of these answers -- if you ask a question that demands an expert opinion, you're more than likely to get a miss than a hit. But the hits make the site worth reading for me, and validate the site entirely.

Some topics are more prone than others to getting answers like these, given prominent players in the userbase. ikkyu2 and docpops take on the medical questions. It seems like there a fair number of linguists here (Mayor Curly and redfoxtail are two I can think of off the top of my head, with languagehat holding down the foreign language/etymology front), and when they step up to answer linguistics questions, it's excellent, although you usually have to wade through all sorts of uninformed opinions to get to the gems. I love the architecture threads. Astrophysics and related questions can often end up awesome, thanks to vacapinta and andrew cooke and a host of others. Lobstermitten and ontic hold down the analytic philosophy front (I try, but I'm just a lil' grad student). Programming and other computer science questions are obviously at home here. Questions about screenwriting tend to go well, thanks to unSane and a few others. And so on, and so on. General questions about academia (applying to grad school, getting tenure, etc.) also go swimmingly.

Many of my favorite questions are of the type that can be answered simply by having a large userbase, but they're not what keep me reading AskMe.
posted by painquale at 11:48 AM on September 10, 2008


AskMe is best at helping me realize I am not nearly so introverted/neurotic as I could be.

But seriously, I think AskMe is perversely best at answering those questions we'd rather not have to ask; that is to say, only a few of the (usually mundane and complicated) Asks I've posted have garnered what I'd consider a Best Answer--perhaps I just ask stupid and impossible questions--but every time I've posted something anonymously, there have been multiple responses that I wished I could favorite to the moon.
posted by kittyprecious at 11:56 AM on September 10, 2008


Thus far, askme has completely failed to to explain to me the proper way to irradiate reptiles to make them big enough to destroy an average sized metropolitan area. It seems that every time the question comes up the answers are always things like:

Monster! Leave the iguanas alone! They don't have a mean bone in their bodies and shouldn't be used for such terrible purposes.

Yeah, don't use iguanas, they don't have the killer instinct you are looking for, use monitors, those fuckers will bite anything!

Why are you making this so complicated? Use a robot, it's easier and cheaper.


They never answer the damn question! It's maddening, and it makes me want to... I don't know... destroy cities and stuff.
posted by quin at 12:18 PM on September 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


Metroid Baby: (1) I really like this book/song/recipe and here are the reasons why; please recommend others that are similar.

Really? I'd rank those among the worst. For every decent answer in those, there are a dozen that don't fit the mold at all and are just an excuse for someone to rattle off their favorite band/book/movie/whatever.
posted by mkultra at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2008


I have asked travel and 'how do I deal with this interpersonal relationship', twice each. The travel have come out well - the interpersonal relationships were useless. However, I think AskMe is almost a venting space for this type, because I think even advice is likely passed over in favor of emotions.

My sockpuppet has asked a few questions and has gotten good answers. They were of the 'I like X, what else is like X' media question variety. My socky is awesome.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2008


"Should I dump the motherfucker already?"

If you just dump him, the body is likely to be found. I would suggest following the body disposal method provided by scarabic.


In other words, AskMeFi is really good at answering questions about how to dispose of a body.
posted by clearly at 12:42 PM on September 10, 2008


askme is best at answering those questions that either a)discourage uninformed answers, or b)depend wholly on uninformed answers. the essential problem is the vast number of people who answer questions without actually knowing what they're talking about. so, questions that fit type a are good because those people tend not to answer them very much. on the other hand, questions that fit type b are good because we really excel at answering things we don't know anything about.

an example of a type a question would be "hi I'm working over at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider, and I was wondering if anyone knows which of the valves at station 42b interrupts particle flow for .045 seconds and which one interrupts flow for only .043 seconds." with a question this specific, and this obscure and unique, you'll probably only get 10-12 uninformed answers of "well, I don't know but I usually stack smaller things on the left so the valve on the left is probably the shorter one. You know what? Just go ahead and use the one on the left. I'm TOTALLY SURE it's the one on the left." 10-12 uninformed answers to a question is a vast improvement over our usual rate.

an example of a type b question would be "hi I'm working over at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider, and I was wondering if my boyfriend is cheating on me. One time he called the Higgs Boson the "Hicks Boson," which is the kind of mistake he wouldn't usually make. I think his mind is elsewhere recently because he's cheating on me." This type of question actively defies informed answers in favor of totally ignorant stereotype reinforcement, which we are AWESOME at.

so there you go. hope this helps.
posted by shmegegge at 12:42 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Always remember, there are no stupid questions on AskMe, only stupid people who don't understand how important your question is. This is especially true for questions about relationships, eating things you are unsure of, or bodily functions gone awry. (Yes, I've asked some of those on a whim.) I've learned to let some of my questions gestate.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:56 PM on September 10, 2008


AskMe is a very good venue to remind people that they are not alone in the universe with their obscure neuroses, oddly pigmented genitals, mercurial bowel habits, inapropriate erotic thoughts, or inexplicable fear of claymation. In that way it is cheaper than psychotherapy and serves the common existential good.
posted by docpops at 1:22 PM on September 10, 2008 [9 favorites]


We're pretty good at rubber stamping the obvious course of action to bolster your confidence.

Where we fail miserably are questions of judgment where you're really uncertain about what to do. "Should I eat this" and "should I take my cat to the vet immediately" are two good examples already cited. Invariably there is the guy who would eat a raw chicken that was out of the refrigerator overnight and the other guy who would throw away a bottle of ketchup if it had been left at room temperature for more than an hour or two. People who are like, "Uh, I dunno" probably won't give you an answer, so you're going to end up getting advice from people who are wearing saran wrap and duct tape as an anti-terrorism measure.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:57 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Invariably there is the guy who would eat a raw chicken that was out of the refrigerator overnight and the other guy who would throw away a bottle of ketchup if it had been left at room temperature for more than an hour or two.

Yes, that's true. And if those were the only two people responding in the thread, then yes, the answers would be useless.

But if you go back through the "should I eat this" questions, you'll find some where twenty people say yes, and two say no, and others where two people say yes and twenty say no. Consensus is a powerful thing. Answers don't have to be absolutely unanimous to be useful.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2008


It's bad at wedding gift questions.
posted by fixedgear at 3:07 PM on September 10, 2008


We're pretty good at guessing dog breeds.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:13 PM on September 10, 2008


No, really, correct my grammar. I just used my AskMe for this week and next week's will probably also be wedding-related.
posted by desjardins at 3:20 PM on September 10, 2008


NERD QUESTIONS.
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on September 10, 2008


Area of total fail: Anything to do with mental health.
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on September 10, 2008


...or that AskMe is particularly bad at answering another type of question.

The worst questions begin with, "Is there a word for...?" It's almost always obvious that the answer is no, and the OP is essentially doing a blog post to say, "Hey, did you ever notice this phenomenon, and isn't it weird/interesting/annoying?!"

Inevitably, lots of answerers oblige with (1) made-up expressions and (2) words that are much broader than the very specific phenomenon that the OP is "asking" about.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:32 PM on September 10, 2008


askme sucks bigtime at answering questions that have any sort of grey area moral / ethical subtext - people will want to debate you on that rather than answer the actual question. They won't give you racist jokes, they won't tell you what you should get tattooed on your knuckles, they won't tell you how to score dope in Korea - instead, they will explain how it is bad and wrong to try to do those things.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:34 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


oh, and they won't help hook you up with a Hindu girl either.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:35 PM on September 10, 2008


Or buy a fat wad of Zimbabwean cash.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


AskMe is bad at assessing how spoiled your food is.

AskMe is great at that. It's just a strong proponent of experimenting.
posted by ersatz at 3:57 PM on September 10, 2008


no no no no no no no.

all of these answers are wrong... y'know what AskMeFi is great at? i mean, ROCKS at?

music questions.

as in: I like this kind of music; please suggest more good music to listen to... this is what i go to AskMeFI for
posted by jammy at 6:32 PM on September 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll go with AskMe being best at "What's that film that had that guy in it, and that other guy, you know the one, right?"

Personally I find it best when not posted to. If I do have some annoying computer question, I often think of how to phrase it as an AskMe, then I think of the reason that it's a stupid question ("you haven't checked XYZ, and you're here asking this?") and go and check that, or whatever.

So, it's like AskMetaFilterFilter.
posted by pompomtom at 6:51 PM on September 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


AskMe has been very good in determining that my cat is a dick.

Also, I have become a zealous fan of the "search" feature whenever I need to know anything. Finding a camera bag that doesn't look like a big asshole camera bag? Check. (PS: I bought this one and love the hell out of it.) My mosquito bites are making it impossible for me to sleep, how do I vanquish them? Check.

Those are the examples I can think of off the top of my head, but I know that searching for previous AskMes has kept me from having to personally query the hive mind about whatever is distressing me at the moment.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:58 PM on September 10, 2008


AskMe is good at preventing people who suspect they may be on the verge of making a terrible choice from making said terrible choice.

Not so good at preventing people convinced they are making fabulous choices from making those same terrible choices.

Random internet strangers will tell you the truth people in real life won't, it seems a lot of the time. It works best as a bucket of cold water or a slap to the face, which depending on your frame of mind is a wake-up call or an insult.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:11 PM on September 10, 2008


Random internet strangers will tell you the truth people in real life won't

Bullshit!
posted by pompomtom at 9:02 PM on September 10, 2008


AskMe has a question on "Where should babby be made?" but nothing at all, NOTHING on "How is babby formed?"

So, I guess we don't have any experience or knowledge of that kind of thing.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:48 PM on September 10, 2008


Are there any examples of AskMe questions where the answers were numerical and could be averaged and compared against the real answer? I'm thinking of the experiments where hundreds of subjects guess the weight of a cow, or the number of jellybeans, and the average is closer than any one answer.

If that turns out to be accurate on AskMe, then it may be a good system of weighing-by-photo.

Ignore me.
posted by lostburner at 11:52 PM on September 10, 2008


Even though it would have been a bad and wrong thing to do, if you had posted this question to AskMe, and the question had then been answered perfectly, then the answer would be 'this question', but only after the question had been asked, and we'd all have disappeared into a strange loop, which would have been a lot of fun.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:20 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter is really good in answering questions such as "Which topics is AskMetafilter best at answering?"
posted by qvantamon at 2:54 AM on September 11, 2008


Metafilter Metatalk is really good in at answering questions such as "Which topics is AskMetafilter best at answering?" correcting other user's comments.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:13 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think most relationship questions are looking for a clear cut answer, so much as a pool of advice they might not have considered already. It helps look at things from all perspectives, which is important in relationship questions. In that case, I think askme is great for those types too. There's no way you can say that's any less valuable than an 3-minute-certainty.
posted by sunshinesky at 10:51 AM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


don't think most relationship questions are looking for a clear cut answer, so much as a pool of advice they might not have considered already that agrees with their preconceptions.
posted by pompomtom at 10:08 PM on September 11, 2008


I don't think most relationship questions are looking for a clear cut answer, so much as a pool of advice they might not have considered already that agrees with their preconceptions.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:17 PM on September 11, 2008


It is very good at answering questions like I need to cook N but I don't have/can't use ingredients A and B and no way of acquiring them in a reasonably short period of time. How can I make N?

Here's my question like that and I'm sure I've seen other similar ones. The recipe I got from that, a pumpkin chocolate cookie, is now my favorite cookie recipe by about a country mile.
posted by Kattullus at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2008


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