Ask Metafilter – Some Thoughts

I recently exchanged a couple e-mails with an MLIS student who was thinking of doing a paper on Yahoo! Answers having seen one of their executives do a presentation at OLA SuperConference.  I suggested that she should focus on Ask Metafilter which is arguably a lot more successful at what it does than Yahoo Answers.  Or do a comparison of both as they provide two unique takes on what could be a model for the future of library reference services. 

On that note, why don't the Ask A Librarian services that are available at most public and academic libraries archive the questions and answers they deal with online?  This would allow multiple people to get benefit from the answers, not just the person who asks the question.  One of the great strengths of AskMefi is the archive of information that has built up in the years it has been in existence.  Because of this, you can search or use the tags to find previous answers that might help with your own question.  In just the past couple weeks, I've used Ask.MetaFilter tags while seeking information on MS-Excel, online address books, babies, and more.  That old saying that there are no new questions, just new people asking, is definitely true in this case!)

Never one to let good information go to waste, here's the full e-mail I sent her:

I've heard of Yahoo Answers, looked at it the odd time but don't use it
because MetaFilter has an excellent service called that is more useful, thorough and effective in my opinion.  Why?  I think people on
MetaFilter are invested in the community and want to support each other
whereas Yahoo Answers tend to have “drive-by” responses (as far as I
know – perhaps they have a sense of community there too?)  But that's
the crux of the issue – Yahoo has potentially millions of people on
their site, AskMetafilter has 50 000 (of which,
*maybe* 10 000? are
active participants.)  You can't discredit the interface of each site either – AskMefi has a layout that encourages you to browse and makes answering questions fairly painless compared to Yahoo's.

There's been some discussion/comparisons of the two services on
MetaFilter so if you wanted to shift your paper in that direction
(either by focusing completely on Ask.Mefi or by doing a comparison of
Internet-based reference services), I can point you to some of those

Another thing that people have claimed helps make the Metafilter network
of sites what it is is the fact that the co-moderator is a librarian
(Jessamyn West who runs the well-known site,  

So, in summary, I *really* think you should incorporate ask.mefi into
your paper in some way.

Here's a follow-up e-mail I sent to her with more info:

One other thing I forgot to mention – Google had a Yahoo Answers
competitor (creatively named “Google Answers”) where they paid 800 people
(I think they were considered contractors – not full-timers) for good
answers.  It was shut down last November.  Here's an announcement from

…and some Google results with more commentary from other sites:

Below is a link to a great article explaining why ask.mefi works and Google Answers
didn't (if you don't know when you read the article, Matt Haughey is the creator of the MetaFilter network.)
Here's one interesting quote from the article:

“Just as importantly, Jessamyn is a librarian. I can't overstate how
much a site that's about providing information benefits from the
presence of a librarian, someome who's an expert at retrieving and
disseminating information.”

There are lots of other good links to Metafilter discussion of the topic
and other relevant stuff in this article too:



Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Hey thanks for the plug. I'd be more than happy to talk to anyone about AskMetaFilter if they're curious.

    Posted 17 Feb 2007 at 4:03 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I talked to the person and they decided to do a different topic entirely. I think I scared them off with all the information I sent!
    Thanks for the offer though – much appreciated. I wish I'd thought to do an essay on this topic when I was at library school. Very interesting. If you have time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on AskMefi as a possible model for future library reference services anyhow.

    Posted 18 Feb 2007 at 2:11 pm

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