February 22, 2006 4:02 AM PST

Ask a question online, get an answer...sometimes

Seven days ago, I posed the question "Is marijuana addictive?" to six so-called answer Web sites.

It didn't take long for me to get a wisecracking answer: "If you don't think it is addictive try stopping for three weeks. A challenge."

Search engines are great for pointing people to information that can help them find a good deal on a laptop, the correct spelling of an obscure French writer's name and the latest news stories on the Iraq war. But how well does the Web do fully answering questions that involve some research or critical thinking?

I posted five questions to six of those increasingly popular answer Web sites. Rather than use reference Web sites that help people find answers by directing them to other online resources, I focused on Web sites where people answer the questions. In less than 24 hours, I received about two dozen responses from so-called experts, librarians and helpful Web surfers.

Not surprisingly, the answers from free Web sites were long on opinion and humor but short on facts. They tended to be good for gauging public opinion but not very helpful in finding explanations for difficult questions.

Seeking answers
News.com visited these six "expert" sites...

• AllExperts.com

• Ask a Librarian

• Google Answers

• Virtual Reference Desk

• Wondir.com

• Yahoo Answers

...to see how they handled open-ended questions such as these:

• Is marijuana addictive?

• When does life begin?

• What should I do if I find that I am underdressed or inappropriately attired at a wedding?

Yahoo users were the most prolific, with more than 30 responses to the questions on Yahoo Answers, a Q&A forum that features answers from "real people," meaning any registered user.

After six days, only one of the questions was "officially" answered on Google Answers, which was the only site queried by CNET News.com that charges for answers from researchers or experts.

On Google Answers, people submit questions and set a price they are willing to pay, with a minimum of $2 for a "researcher" to answer, plus a nonrefundable 50-cent listing fee per question. The price offered is paid only if the question is answered by a researcher. The questioner pays Google, which in turn pays three-quarters of the fee to the researcher. Researchers are tested expert searchers or experts in a given field. Google registered users can post comments to questions, but they do not receive any money. For each of my questions, I set the lowest price and received one answer, one request for clarification and eight comments.

There were three responses from Wondir.com, which scrolls questions across the site like a ticker and allows anyone to respond. Two of the questions were answered each on AllExperts.com, which lets people who submit questions choose from lists of experts in different fields, and the U.S. Library of Congress' Ask a Librarian Web site.

Only one question was answered through AskA+ Locator, also known as the Virtual Reference Desk Web site, which refers questioners to other free expert and resource sites within specific categories.

Question + answer = huh?
The controversial philosophical question "When does life begin?" got the most responses, again mostly from Yahoo members, 11 of whom piped up. The consensus answer was "at conception." Some people provided scientific explanations, while one user speculated that reincarnation makes that determination difficult.

Others just waxed poetic.

"Life begins when we realize the purpose behind our existence... Existence + Wisdom = Life," one Yahoo Answers user wrote. A nonexpert comment on Google leaned on historical trivia: "The Romans, sensibly, determined that human progeny became a 'person' when they first ate meat."

Three people responded on the Wondir site, including one who said life "begins with consciousness" and another who replied: "When you get your first car."

CONTINUED: You're wearing that?…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
researcher, expert, Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc., response

18 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
From a historical perspective......
askme.com was the best Q&A site out there until the tore it down.

I think this was a very bad business choice to make.

A. repeat customers to your site.
B. Exposure to millions
C. I bet their client base is not as big as it used to be.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
LOC is good, but...
...I would have recommended trying your local public library's "Ask a Librarian" service. If you are the Elinor Mills living in Hanover, PA, you can go to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.yorklibraries.org/AskUsLive/askuslive.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.yorklibraries.org/AskUsLive/askuslive.htm</a> and try your local library's virtual reference service. A local public library is likely to be more responsive to a local question than the Library of Congress is. At least, that's the way we do it at my library.
Posted by yoyology (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Its all about the question
if you ask when does life begin you first have to define life, what do you expect?

and if your asking hot questions like the marijuana one do you really expect a good answer?
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Offer chickenfee, get scratchins
This writer claims to critique online answer services, and the claims may be valid as applied to free services. But when s/he posts 5 questions at Google Answers at the cheapest price possible, s/he hasn't got a let to stand on for complaining about getting *any* answer. Despite the fact that some users seem to regard Google Answers as a glorified newsgroup (which it is NOT), Researchers there are working for money, not hanging out on a free advice board like Wondir or Yahoo Answers.

On a $2 question, the Researcher will earn $1.50. How much work would this writer be willing to do for that? Probably much less than it took to research, compose and post the paid answer that was received, the snide remark about a "simple search" notwithstanding. Although many Researchers often provide far more work and information than the paltry pay would warrant, there is still the sage advice to consider, i.e. "you get what you pay for."

Next time, try posting a question at the maximum price, and see what you get.
Posted by txbyrd (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Judgment vs. judgement, and needless pedantry
Dissing someone with the needless use of a (sic) for an alternative
spelling is hopeless. The English language marches on, and
judgement is entering acceptable use.

See <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/" target="_newWindow">http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/</a>
english_grammar_style/spell_judgment.html for agood take on
this, and welcome to the 21st century!
Posted by Kilohoku (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pay to get a high quality answer fast
All the web sites you checked except for Google Answers are free, and the minimal fee at Google Answers is almost free. There are other web sites where you can get fast and accurate live expert advice, providing you are willing to pay.
Posted by noa_lif (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
digital camera
I have a aol photo cam plus digital camera and i can't download my photos on this computor when i connect my usb plus to this computor i get a error message what do i do.
Posted by brownsugar17 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Try taking the mouse out of your mouth first.
Posted by tedconn (1 comment )
Link Flag
Jayhawk invititational
Does any one have infromation on this tournament in Lawrence Kansas this weekend
Posted by Coach Knox (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
how does this work
First time aboard this how do you get your answers
Posted by Coach Knox (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
how does this work
how does this reply work how do you get your answers
Posted by Coach Knox (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i have this question ( Describe standards for dial Network Layer services )
Please help me.
Posted by hazim56 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
you are about to venture on a life journey needed for your own personal growth.?
...what does all that mean??????
Posted by lilnovi (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Hi,

I am using intel 865gvhz mother board with pentium-4 2.8 GHz processor(HT). My motherboard got damaged and when i give for repair, they are saying that my processor is pin type and it cannot be used with new motherboards.
If I will replace both of the motherboard 865GVHZ and also my DDR-1 RAM, then my problem will solve or not? Can anyone suggest what to do??

- Rajesh (New Delhi, India)
Posted by rajeshiete (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I have a delimma. I have a 3 month old 42" Samsung LCD 1080p Flat screen TV. I accidentally bumped into the screen with a grocery sack of canned goods and caused "impact dage". I call a licensed repair dealer in southwest MO and was told it would cost @ $750.00 to repair. Well I can get a 40" Samsung about anywhere for $750 or less. Does it really cost that much to repair impact damage to an LCD screen....Thanks...Mark
getmark28@yahoo,com
Posted by getmark28 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
is any hulk game in cnet download..........

give me link please....................
Posted by sanketsuman (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I want to hook up a router at say MGM or Caesars for my iPhones. Can I do this without knowing the password of the land-line that comes into the room? Using the XP laptop is kinda confusing to me, so I wanted to buy a cheap router and try to do this without knowing the password, and the user name on their account. Any answers will be appreciated! Thanks. My email is dean_1492@hotmail.com
Posted by dean1492 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Hello:
I'am interested in the new Sony 50w800b tv,it appears that Sony has
Sold a bunch so far.Is their any information out there as to the good and
The bad on this tv.I sure would like to know something about it
before I buy it.
Thanks
Bob
Posted by Dreamframes (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.