Google's Refocus on Social Answers October 18, 2022 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I wanted to note how Google is, in an upcoming rollout, renewing its focus on human answers by offering a section of results from message boards/humans.

The news coverage has focused on the now-ubiquitious habit of adding 'reddit' to searches for recommendations as to products, etc. - but this may end up benefiting Ask Metafilter. If any Metafilter alumni mods have Google contacts, it might be beneficial to see if Ask can be indexed amongst those "social searches".
posted by MollyRealized to Feature Requests at 2:34 AM (28 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

Wow could be so cool if we hung around long enough to be fresh and relevant again!
posted by Meatbomb at 2:50 AM on October 18, 2022 [16 favorites]

I haven't heard about this. I'm kind of ambivalent just because, historically, Google's search algorithm has been so capricious. But it would be grest, at least temporarily, if Google Search → AskMe generated a bunch of traffic again.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:06 AM on October 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Even better if we could get a fundraising situation set up with a top banner before potential waves of new people come to glean from our accumulated wisdom and bad takes.
posted by Mizu at 4:53 AM on October 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

My guess is that Ask Metafilter wouldn't get indexed much. Google seems to be looking for (and linking to) definitive answers (like what you'd find in a FAQ) rather than a discussion with various answers (many of them opposing).

A coworker saw a statistic that said that 30% of web searches now end on Google's first page of results, because these kind of questions and answers are right there. This is probably good for people just looking for basic info (like "how old is celebrity X?" or something like that), but bad for the websites that the info comes from, as people now have no need to go to the website. So even if Ask meta filter content did get used in this section, I doubt it would increase traffic much, since most people will be satisfied with the answer they're given.
posted by jonathanhughes at 5:47 AM on October 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

How is Google not a massive IP theif / pirate by doing this?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:11 AM on October 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

@jonathanhughes these are all reasons not to throw a ton of resources at this but having Ask come up more frequently in Google search results will drive at least a little traffic and make more people aware that exists so probably worth evaluating whether it's possible and the effort it would require.
posted by Tehhund at 6:13 AM on October 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

I wish I could understand what caused the googlepocalypse to begin with, given that the deprioritization of Ask drastically degraded the user experience of asking Google questions. The phenomenon is worse today, with algorithmic SEO shoving a lot of very low quality answer-esque content to the result’s first page.

Ask is, as far as I’m aware, the only high quality general purpose English-language answer site. Everything else is at Yahoo Answers/Quora/ExpertsExchange levels of “confidently incorrect” for many searches. This makes the continued effect of the googlepocalypse even more baffling from a search result quality perspective.

Of course, search result quality is obviously no longer a priority at Google where the intended product direction is to regress to as little above the mean as creates differentiation.
posted by majick at 7:12 AM on October 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

Ask is, as far as I’m aware, the only high quality general purpose English-language answer site. Everything else is at Yahoo Answers/Quora/ExpertsExchange levels of “confidently incorrect” for many searches.

Where do you rate Stack Exchange and Reddit in this ranking system?
posted by zamboni at 7:32 AM on October 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Good point. Stack family sites have a structure and moderation regime largely borne of the ancestral site: technical things for which there is a fairly crisp description of the problem and a few valid answers of which some subset may be optimal. The deduplication in moderation and narrow answering scope is one of the stronger forces for their asking and answering culture. It’s good at weeding out one end of the Dunning-Kruger stuff but has other effects on answer quality and scope.

Reddit is reddit: wrong answers only, gib orangered plz, go! There’s useful stuff in there for sure but community size / performative behavior / Dunning-Kruger / subreddit collective norms / read-the-sidebar-ism seem to degrade quality. Not to mention questions for many subjects tend pretty thoroughly in the malformed direction.

I guess my own answer to the question is “fit for purpose, purpose is not general.”
posted by majick at 7:49 AM on October 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

Maybe the funny way to put it is:
  • Stack for INT/WIS answers to your question
  • Ask for WIS/INT answers to your question
  • Reddit for LUK/CHA answers to your question
  • Everything else for opening a portal to the plane of stupidity
posted by majick at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2022 [15 favorites]

What next, they bring back Google Answers so they own their own user-generated content?

*pours one out for the short-lived service that paid for beer through college*
posted by Mayor West at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2022

Speaking of Google's attempts to harvest answers from humans, I wonder how Google Question Hub is going.
(If you've ever seen a text form with "Get the answer you’re looking for added to the web" at the bottom of your search results, that's Google Question Hub.)
posted by zamboni at 11:58 AM on October 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Can't wait until Google starts indexing all of those forums filled with aggressive nerds whose response to questions is always 'this solution is easily Googleable'
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:44 PM on October 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

I always thought it was a meme, the whole “google something and get a thread back that says to google it” thing. I mean, it was plausible because there are a lot of JFGI kind of statements in the forum world out there, I just hadn’t seen it.

Then it happened to me.

Then it happened again.

Then I came back to finish something months later, tried to dig up whatever resource I was using for information, and I wound up hitting the first JFGI-only answer again.
posted by majick at 6:57 PM on October 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

I just wish Google could figure out that for most questions, there is only one site actually writing an answer, and a hundred sites blindly copy/pasting it (right or not, they don't even know) and adding ads. And the cheaters rank higher in the search algo.

You can tell when every site even has the same misspellings in the "answer".
posted by ctmf at 11:50 PM on October 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

blindly copy/pasting it (right or not, they don't even know) and adding ads.

That's literally Google's business model.
posted by automatronic at 1:28 AM on October 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

How is Google not a massive IP theif / pirate by doing this?

Same as how they're not a thief/pirate by displaying "enhanced" (🙄) search results (or whatever they're calling it this week) isn't stealing.

Besides, they can just hide behind the ol' flimsy paper-mâché shield of "just block us in robots.txt if u don't like it lol kbye"
posted by slater at 8:26 AM on October 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just wish Google could figure out that for most questions, there is only one site actually writing an answer, and a hundred sites blindly copy/pasting it (right or not, they don't even know) and adding ads. And the cheaters rank higher in the search algo.
Whose ads do you think they're displaying?

I'm pretty dubious that the genuinely human and mostly intelligible information contained on AskMe will be of interest to Google these days (maybe the answer box should have an in-built 'here's the one thing you should do' prefix), but it's worth keeping an eye on this development and appearing in more search results would have to drive at least some traffic our way.
posted by dg at 2:25 PM on October 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

cynical in the absence of information

Google results have gotten worse over the years. I don’t think it is because they are unable to provide helpful results. It is because serving ads is their business. Since they have no real competition, there’s no reason to expect them to get better.

I think it is fine to do some wishful thinking about Metafilter ad revenues. But I think it is impolite to post about it, thereby explicitly inviting comments, and then complain that realistic perspectives on the idea are annoying.
posted by snofoam at 3:27 AM on October 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

At the risk of being antagonistic, Mefites' tendency to wax cynical in the absence of information is a group cognitive bias that I find kind of annoying.

I was going to stay out of this discussion but… look up the Google E-A-T information and you’ll see right away why Ask is unlikely to go back to being a SEO powerhouse. This is actual information. These is an area in which I have worked in the past although I’m a bit rusty.

I love Ask. But Google needs to be able to see:

Expertise - since we don’t have recognized experts visible On the site, plus this is a generalist site, plus we don’t have experts linking to our answers much on their verified socials.

Authority - okay, so you are a hospital or food safety site. Or financial expert. Or woodworker. Or climate change activist. Or therapist. Are you ever going to send your audience to AskMe as a trusted resource? No, because it’s not deep enough and also - where do you link them to? There’s a few topic driven landing pages but nothing like a subreddit or sub forum structure. As a reader I love that but as someone who used to drive traffic it’s a nightmare.

Trustworthiness — real talk here. Health and financial questions in particular are something Google looks for misinformation about and then degrades you (hurrah goodbye Think about that and think about how we answer things in our wonderful connective, messy human way here.

Additionally Google looks for:
- clear titles and language
- good site structure
- original content - we are based on linking to others
- visuals for social sharing

I am not doom saying. I do think this is why to attract people to a generalist site you need a wide variety of strategies, including partnerships with actual creators and a look at what might be easiest to make more discoverable (which is FanFare.)

Source: I once drove over 4 million Canadians in a country of 36 million to a holiday baking package.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:44 AM on October 20, 2022 [15 favorites]

Another unfortunate MetaFilter bias is calling pessimism "realistic." Yes, on average Google results have gotten worse. But that doesn't mean that every single change to Google's results will be worse. Moreover, we're not talking about "how can we make Google search results better," we're talking about "how can we get Ask MetaFilter higher in Google search results." So whether Google search results are getting better or worse is somewhat orthogonal to the discussion. I'd agree that anyone saying "this will work" or "this won't work" are both operating "in the absence of information." This MetaTalk is suggesting that we gather that information, and I'm not sure "don't even bother looking into this" is useful feedback.

On preview, I see warriorqueen has provided some actual information, so that's helpful.
posted by Tehhund at 4:46 AM on October 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

Now that I'm not on my phone here's some pretty clear information about what Google is looking for.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2022 [8 favorites]

I googled "sci fi novel amusement park CB humor" and AskMe was on the first page. It was below a dozens ads, several listicles, an article about why Disney won't create an alien theme park, and an article about Chinese theme parks, but it was there.
posted by gwydapllew at 7:38 AM on October 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sure, if your search is that specific it will definitely come up.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:25 AM on October 21, 2022

If members of the community want to help move the needle on search, the biggest thing you can do is link to AskMe or any of the discussion regularly from your social accounts, blogs, or newsletters. As is absolutely buried in this document, Google determines quality in part from:

"Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here. Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means.

Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site's reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content."

I've never felt too comfortable speculating on the 2012-era change in traffic but that was during my media career and we largely benefited from the change (we lost some long-tail traffic on our food and health sites) because we had really good partnerships and some social traction.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:32 AM on October 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

warriorqueen, I wasn't disputing your expertise! I was just entertained when this thread popped up and I saw Metafilter in a search result.
posted by gwydapllew at 8:38 AM on October 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

No for sure. We do come up! :)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:43 AM on October 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

As we ponder our value to Google we should probably consider that we've answered roughly 4000 questions in the last five months, which is how many Quora answers in a day. God knows how many questions reddit handles.

If it's just a matter of adding to a list of hosts they may be interested, but if it involves anything more than that they've probably got other things to do.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:57 AM on October 21, 2022

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