Easily Googled AskMefi Questions February 7, 2014 6:36 PM   Subscribe

What are your thoughts on AskMefi questions that can be easily Googled and/or are based on erroneous information? (I'm thinking specifically of this question, which contains both factually incorrect details and could easily be answered with Google. There isn't a request for advice, experiential information, anecdata, or other relevant info that a search engine couldn't provide. What does everyone think? Is this a normal/appropriate use of AskMefi?
posted by schroedingersgirl to Etiquette/Policy at 6:36 PM (45 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Well, I can tell you that we delete answers that just link to Google and Wikipedia searches for the topic.

Personally, I don't like them very much but they fall under the heading of "Things Jessamyn doesn't like and has to just live with" When people ask anon questions like this, we'll often not approve them because the main response is going to be "Why didn't you Google this?"

That said, we have many sorts of users with many different backgrounds and skillsets. I don't know what kind of meetings shipbreaker goes to, perhaps that's exactly what he was told.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:42 PM on February 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

The quick answer from the mod side is, obviously it's good when people take some responsibility for answering their own questions first, but some people are better at finding and vetting information and sources than others. That question strikes me as, in the most charitable interpretation, a request for good articles/info on the subject.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:42 PM on February 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

I've seen some questions like that and thought the same and then been astounded by some of the answers.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:55 PM on February 7, 2014 [17 favorites]

It's hard to know if I'm using Google poorly sometimes. I don't think it's a big negative to the site to have them up there.

Also, I like to think it could be helpful in future, since Google results change over time whereas the answers to this question will remain.
posted by ODiV at 6:55 PM on February 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about making the preview page when posting a question show the results of googling the above-the-fold portion of the question? It could be in some discrete but visible panel titled, "does this answer your question?"
posted by alms at 7:19 PM on February 7, 2014

I have some sympathy for this impulse. I very nearly blew an AskMe earlier today in order to ask UK mefites if the way Jonathan Ross is a speech impediment or an accent. (TL;DR: it's unclear, there's arguments on both sides, but it's not particularly regional whatever it is.)

I'd say the reason MeFi was my first impulse is that I didn't know what the technical linguistic term for that is, and this reckoned that the initial google results might not be super relevant; whereas even if my question was vaguely worded, any intelligent human familiar with the man would know exactly what I meant and there was a fair chance, MeFi having the audience it does, that I'd get a clear, concise, even erudite answer to my exact query in half an hour or so.

As it turned out, the google results for "Jonathan Ross speech impediment" were actually pretty decent --- one of the most helpful being an existing green thread on this exact issue from a couple years back.

But I think that "I'm not sure how to describe this so a computer will get it, but any human would know" thing is a big part of it. Of course, if you're an answerer who's familiar with the issue, the keywords that will generate good results seem intuitive and obvious.
posted by Diablevert at 7:25 PM on February 7, 2014 [10 favorites]

Very appropriate. This question has a lot of components that someone unfamiliar with the field would have difficulty understanding the answer to:

- Is there a congressional mandate
- What is involved with smartcard credit cards
- What's involved in the rollout, which involves understanding the difference between merchants, retailers, and cardholders
- What are good, reputable sources of information on this sort of thing?

Can you get that through Google? Yes. But sometimes your one question per week is a good tradeoff for a couple hours of googling to figure things out yourself. Payment cards can be pretty overwhelming the first time you delve into infrastructure and standards.

And then there's the difficulty of trying to discern vendor BS from actual quality information on the topic.

As for the erroneous information, that's all the more reason that AskMe is useful. It's hard to tell, especially when you don't have a background in a field, if the fact that googling "smartcard congress mandate" returns nothing is a function of crappy keywords or a function of other people being incorrect.

And, selfishly, I support anything on MeFi that lets me talk about information security.
posted by bfranklin at 7:30 PM on February 7, 2014 [17 favorites]

What are your thoughts on AskMefi questions that can be easily Googled and/or are based on erroneous information?

If they're "based on erroneous information," that goes against your point about how they "can be easily Googled." If someone of your info is wrong, that could pollute your Google search.
posted by John Cohen at 8:06 PM on February 7, 2014 [9 favorites]

[...] the first time you delve into infrastructure and standards.

This is not a minor problem at all, and your points are excellent, but it made me think of all of the following:

Before you can even divine what the infrastructure and standards are, you're standing on square -1. It's all obfuscated, or proprietary, or misrepresented, or some other thing that stands in the way of seeing the top layer of the complex mess of how all the different parts (hopefully) work together. You might Google about PIN numbers. So you get one site and it talks about X9.8, and you figure out what that means and how to download it and maybe, if you'e lucky, make some sense of it in the context of your questions. And then you figure out, eventually, that you want to see X9.24, but hey - that'll be $200 for a license. And it's kind-sorta important IRT the whole PIN thing, or that's what some other website says. But it's also expensive and a bad bet for someone who doesn't also know already what they'll find in there. And even if you get to the stage where you're spending this money, well, welcome to square 0. To really reach square 1 with any sanity left, you either need to know someone who with tell you WTF is going on, or you need to be implementing something against an established solution (so that you can force the provider to explain WTF is going on).

That's one doozy of a question that, in my experience, is not something you just Google to figure out.
posted by timfinnie at 8:07 PM on February 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work in this field (on the software side) and it is notoriously, frustratingly complex. It really isn't something that can be easily googled unless you're already an expert.

Or rather, Google's answers will be so devoid of relevance and critical analysis it's a large waste of time. To me, this limitation with internet search engines is precisely the benefit and point of AskMe.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:12 PM on February 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sometimes you can't google well because you can't hit on quite the right word that will enable google to find what you're after. I actually like those questions, where someone says "I can't find a thing that I know I should be able to find!" and someone responds, "Here it is, and here was the right google phrase." So interesting!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:34 PM on February 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Questions that are easily googled are, I often find, answered very poorly indeed by metafilter - or rather, if you ask a question that mefites are not well-placed to answer, they are very liberal with just having a (completely unqualified) guess. The guesses are in my experience usually pretty bad, whereas a few minutes dedicated googling will often find you an answer or page written by someone who is not a mefite, but eminently qualified to answer.

I find this most obvious when people ask a question regarding regulation or structure outside the continental US. Despite the... individuality of the United States when it comes to matters like this, a horde of mefites wade in, muddying the waters with hopelessly inappropriate answers.

See also, some medical questions (though personally I find them a real mix of genuinely helpful and rather ignorant), and legal/business questions.
posted by smoke at 9:17 PM on February 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't think that Google should be the placeholder #1 default for all casual human knowledge. I feel similarly about Quora and the Catholic church.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:19 PM on February 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

PIN numbers
posted by dg at 10:20 PM on February 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

Would you like to know more?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:49 PM on February 7, 2014

What's wrong with PIN numbers? How else can I use an ATM machine?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:19 PM on February 7, 2014 [14 favorites]

I'm transferring your call to the Department of Redundancy Department, please hold on.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:22 PM on February 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm often suspicious of questions like these, and yes, have mailed the mods once about it. Sometimes the query and the framing makes me wonder if its just user research being conducted on unsuspecting population of internet users. For free.

"Intern, go sample what the common man on the internet thinks about this regulation"
posted by infini at 12:56 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

PIN numbers

RAS syndrome

"Although there are many instances in editing where removal of redundancy improves clarity, the pure-logic ideal of zero redundancy is seldom maintained in human languages, and it is carried to extremes only by people with oversimplified, hypercorrective misunderstandings of how rules work in language."
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:51 AM on February 8, 2014 [22 favorites]

PIN numbers

posted by marienbad at 3:07 AM on February 8, 2014

I googled "how to declaw a cat" and it just refers me back to AskMe... so there's that...
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

it is carried to extremes only by people with oversimplified, hypercorrective misunderstandings of how rules work in language
Nice selective quoting to make your point. It's possible, though, that the acronym PIN has moved so far into common usage as a word and that so few people know (or care) what the acronym stands for that it may be soon time to give up the fight on this one. Not yet though, by god. Not yet.
posted by dg at 3:59 AM on February 8, 2014

Don't look up what PHP stands for.
posted by spitbull at 4:01 AM on February 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

If they're "based on erroneous information," that goes against your point about how they "can be easily Googled." If someone of your info is wrong, that could pollute your Google search.

What? No...that's not true. A Google search for "Congressional mandate SMART CARD" will show really quickly (like in the top five returns) that there is no mandate yet. Google is great for resolving confusion and clarifying misconceptions.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:18 AM on February 8, 2014

Anyway, thanks to all of you that answered my question. It's interesting to see where people have different thoughts on this, and how opinions vary. I appreciate these answers!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:18 AM on February 8, 2014

A Google search for "Congressional mandate SMART CARD" will show really quickly (like in the top five returns) that there is no mandate yet.

A google for that set of keywords (ignoring this ask) yields:
- a couple articles too old to be useful
- a white paper with no date on it that talks about EMV
- the smart card alliance's FAQ, which talks about the US government federal smart card program, and in the section on that program says "The U.S. Federal government has standardized on smart cards for employee and contractor identification cards and is also specifying smart cards in new identity programs for citizens"
- A wikipedia page on the REAL ID act, which is another Congressional thing

It's still not clear if you're unfamiliar with the topic that you did a good query. There's nothing about payment cards except a technical white paper, which I wouldn't expect any novice to punch their way through.

If you're in the business of working with technical topics, you probably say at this point "oh, I need to add EMV to my search query, because that was the most relevant result." I wouldn't fault someone for saying "hey, this is over my head, let me ask the hive."
posted by bfranklin at 4:55 AM on February 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah... I look up legislation (in a completely different field) on a regular basis, but without the technical background, trying to Google this resulted in confusion for me.
posted by zennie at 6:59 AM on February 8, 2014

"Things Jessamyn doesn't like and has to just live with"

Now *that* would be one helluva of a MeTalk.
posted by Ardiril at 9:20 AM on February 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

I've asked a few pretty basic sport-related questions because I want the actual opinion of sporting MeFites. I trust the opinions and experiences of folks here more than any other random health site where it may or may not involve someone hawking their supplements / exercise videos / paid subscriptions to their "plan" / base-level users who bring all their drama and judgment and superstitions to the table. Yes, the answers are technically "available" elsewhere, but they aren't MeFite answers, and that makes all the difference, personally.
posted by mykescipark at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have definitely seen questions that I thought really the person should have just made a little more effort to look for themselves, but this really wasn't one of them, because if you already have a wrong idea of what's going on, that makes Googling about a million times harder.

Actually, the ones that frustrate me a bit are the ones where it's Wikipedia they clearly haven't checked, not Google. I mean, not badly frustrate, but I just wish more people realized that it's a useful resource for certain things. Someone asked a bit back about a tabletop RPG about making a TV show. It took like sixty seconds to find a fairly complete list on Wikipedia, and since "television" is not a common theme, well, Primetime Adventures is one of only two things listed under 'other'. Easy if you know where to look.

Google tends to be more complicated than it seems--you have to know the magic words. "television show tabletop rpg" does not yield Primetime Adventures anywhere on the first five pages, although it does yield that same Wikipedia link, but the preview text is about a Buffy RPG. "primetime tabletop rpg" gets you there, but if you knew it was called Primetime you probably wouldn't be asking to start with.
posted by Sequence at 9:59 AM on February 8, 2014

Well, I often wonder about questions that can be easily looked up using [your search engine of choice]. Sometimes it takes longer to write the ask.me than to do that little bit of research it seems. So I've noted in my reply that the answer can be found [here] and can be searched for [this way] while providing the/ part of the answer. Those types of comments tend to get deleted because they sound like I'm scolding the OP. I know people are busy and have different reasons/backgrounds/skillets but when someone can word the question I think they likely have the time/skills to have a look around the web first.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:22 AM on February 8, 2014

So I've noted in my reply that the answer can be found [here] and can be searched for [this way] while providing the/ part of the answer.

I like it when people mention their methods because it helps me think about searching in different ways.

I think everyone has had those days where you just can't find quite the right search term or phase, so as long as the OP mentions that they tried I'm okay with it. (I'd be all for eliminating the phrase "google-fu" however.)
posted by Room 641-A at 11:35 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't know anything about a topic, how are you supposed to work out if the answers google turns up are actually right, right for you, or just what's floated to the top? It's a bit like how you can't work out the ways that Wikipedia entry is misleading (especially if it's subtly so) if you really don't know anything the topic. (And for topics I do know about I've seen enough wonky and distorted entires so be suspicious even of ones that look otherwise good.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:40 AM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a tacit assumption lumped in there: "I can easily Google that" isn't the same as "this person can easily Google it."

An example: because I find them fascinating and suspenseful, I periodically collect and link to "Can I eat this?" AskMe questions on my blog. As an unintended consequence of that blog category, a lot of my traffic finds me (and sometimes clicks through to the relevant AskMe questions) by searching for advice on food safety.

The search engine terms show how not-very-clearly many people think when they're searching: my stats are typically rambling, run-on jumbles full of irrelevant, limiting phrases like "left frozen shrimp on the counter" and "left pulled pork on top of the fridge" and "left it in the car," where "it" is never defined in the search. It's very rare I find a search string in my stats that isn't full of these irrelevant words and phrases.

Those search strings are just enough to help them find AskMe questions about, say, shrimp cocktail left in the car, but aren't likely to help them find official food-safety advice or statistics.

Similarly, when I'm searching for something I don't understand well, I often have to make several attempts before I hit on the words that will lead to a successful search. And sometimes I never hit it; just this week, I thought about posting an AskMe about a video converter I'm learning to use. I'm sure there's a tutorial somewhere online, but I'll be darned if I can find it using Google because the app is called Adapter, a word so common in video-equipment context as to make it practically unsearchable.
posted by Elsa at 11:44 AM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

"How can I surpass Google in market share and earnings?"
posted by oceanjesse at 12:39 PM on February 8, 2014

Haha, I rarely use proper grammar for search queries. And I've seen enough SEO copy that was created exactly for the purpose of being in the top 5 search results, so I know I'm not alone.
Re: Adapter. Macroplant Adapter? More of a walk-through than a proper tutorial [SLYT], so maybe you spotted a gap in the market!
posted by travelwithcats at 12:51 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

To a large extent AskMe, and resources like it, are what gets googled. We aren't replacing google poorly, we're enhancing it.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:57 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Haha, I rarely use proper grammar for search queries.

It's not the grammar I'm speaking of, but the unnecessary and limiting inclusion of phrases about where the food was left: on the counter, in the car, on top of the fridge, on the table, on the turned-off stove. That kind of specificity adds nothing useful to the search and excludes lots of informative results, yet I see it in almost every search string about food safety.

Seeing these long cluttered search strings turn up in my stats every single day made me realize how much extraneous information gets included in people's searches, and why their searches aren't especially useful or targeted. And I can't fault them for it, because when I'm outside my own fields of competence, my searches can be similarly not-useful because I just plain don't know what's valuable to include.

Thanks for the link to the video; it may be useful. But again, I mentioned that as an example of the larger problem: even an experienced Google [or other search engine] user may periodically run into something for which it's weirdly difficult to formulate useful search terms. I did eventually figure out that adding "macroplant adapter" to my search would narrow it down immensely. But it took me a few frustrating searches to get there, and if I'd been a less experienced or confident user, I could easily have given up.
posted by Elsa at 1:15 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

"It's not the grammar I'm speaking of"

I know, you said so clearly in your first post: "typically rambling, run-on jumbles full of irrelevant, limiting phrases".

I agree that there is a lot of insignificant info included. However, those examples use proper grammar. Just added this observation. My searches go more like that: dog chocolate - and voila, Theobromine poisoning comes up in the top 5 results.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:56 PM on February 8, 2014

Right, and that's why I didn't mention grammar until you did; in response to your remark: Haha, I rarely use proper grammar for search queries.

I was specifically (and, I thought, clearly) speaking about how search strings reveal the jumble of unnecessary, idiosyncratic detail – and often the lack of useful detail, as in the example I gave above where someone "left it out of fridge" without ever specifying what "it" was.

My point was never that people do or don't use conventional grammar in searches; you brought up grammar. My point was that people apparently have trouble determining what's useful to include in search terms.
posted by Elsa at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the secondary, but still significant benefits, of AskMe is that Asks frequently end up with very high Google rankings for their subject matter. Very often, an AskMe thread is the highest-quality repository on the Internet for information regarding whatever topic the thread happens to be about. So even if somebody asks a question that is predicated on a misunderstanding that could've been easily rectified, the ensuing thread in which they are patiently set straight in great detail by a dozen better-informed MeFites can become a valuable resource in its own right for future searchers.

Also, people who ask questions based on misunderstandings probably don't realize that they are subject to those misunderstandings or else they wouldn't be asking about them. If they assume that what they're asking about is a real issue, they may have been less inclined to go searching for basic information about it. In the case of the question that inspired this post, one might assume that the Asker figured that he/she already knew about the basic concept, and was hoping for more detailed information of the kind that AskMe is often so good at providing (and which the Internet at large is often so poor at providing).
posted by Scientist at 5:34 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know I posted an AskMe recently that does have Google(Maps)able answers for two reasons:

1) The search engine options were at once over- and underwhelming and I was hoping a MeFite might have a magic bullet answer.

2) The new Google Maps is a little bitch.

But sometimes a question has more than one correct answer and AskMe can help you form a better answer than Google.
posted by maryr at 12:00 PM on February 9, 2014

schroedingersgirl: "What are your thoughts on AskMefi questions that can be easily Googled and/or are based on erroneous information?"

I think they're often two different things. The former kinda bugs me and I rarely answer those questions.

But if a question is based on erroneous information, it can be difficult to Google it -- if you don't know why your search results never seem to address your question, you can go in frustrating circles until you figure out where you're out of sync.
posted by desuetude at 8:07 AM on February 10, 2014

I asked question that would seem to have a simple Google answer and also an ask-dentist answer.

However, I asked here because the Internet answers were either too vague to be useful or so strict that I suspected they were written by lawyers rather than Toofus Professionals. I hoped that the answers would have enough data and personal experience for me to make an intelligent, not enamel-killing decision.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:10 PM on February 10, 2014

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