By: Mordechai Schmutter
If everyone told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?
What if they didn’t even know you?
I’m referring, in particular, to the community-driven Q&A websites, such as “Askville”, “Answerbag”, and “Yahoo! Answers”. These sites are a great way to get out all the things that you need to ask someone, such as:
-“HOW DO I TURN OFF MY CAPS LOCK BUTTON?”
-“Are there any islands left that haven’t been discovered?”
-“How do I get my credit card out of the disk drive?”
-“Why are there school? Is a point to it?” and
-“I was bitten by a turtle when I was little. Should I still drink orange juice?”
These are all real questions. I’m sorry.
Considering how convenient the internet already makes things, Yahoo! Answers seems to be for people who already find the internet too inconvenient. Google itself is great – you don’t even have to know how to spell. It just asks, “Did you mean this?”
But with Yahoo! Answers, you don’t even have to know how to Google. Basically, it’s for people who only know how to look things up in the form of a question they can ask human beings. These are the same people who can’t use a dictionary, because they don’t know how to look up the word “obtuse”; they have to look up, “What does obtuse mean?” and the W section doesn’t seem long enough.
Okay, so maybe your questions are good ones. Maybe they’re things you can’t really Google, like specific personal advice questions. Like, “How come whenever I forget something, it’s my fault, and when my wife forgets something, it’s my fault for not reminding her?” I don’t think you can Google that. But that doesn’t mean you should blindly follow the suggestions you get.
“Of course I can trust them,” people say. “It’s Yahoo. This isn’t some fly-by-night company.”
And it’s not. But:
A. Yahoo doesn’t write the answers. It’s kind of like saying, “Of course it’s safe to take the subway. The MTA is a pretty big company.”
B. You can’t believe everything you read. Not even everything you read in a newspaper is accurate, and those are people who get paid to write things and have a professional reputation to protect. So even if something is a guess, it’s at least a guess that they hope is true.
But the people answering your questions have no motivation to give you the correct answer. It’s not like this is a charity thing that they do in their spare time; that they’re so finished helping everyone around them that they’re looking for people on the internet they can help too. You know how easy it is to write things on the internet?
It’s not even like Google, where you can look at the results and say, “Well, these people took the time to build an entire site devoted to this subject, so they must have some idea of what they’re talking about.” These people stumbled across your question at 3 in the morning. For them to go to Yahoo! Answers when they don’t even have a question (“How can I doctor a photo so that all my kids are looking at the camera?”), that means they basically used up everything else they can possibly look at on the internet, and your question is what’s left. Or else they’re on the site to ask a question, and they noticed yours and decided to answer it. In which case, the people who are giving the answers are the same ones who were misspelling all those other questions.
Would you trust the opinion of someone you don’t know? Probably. We ask directions from random people on the street, and whatever the guy says, we believe him. We don’t even try to get a second opinion. And the guy doesn’t know us from Adam Harishon, but what he does know is that the quicker he spurts out an answer, the quicker we take him off the spot. And even if he’s wrong, you’re never going to see him again anyway, especially if he gets you lost.
Okay, but Yahoo has a “best answer”, right?
Except that it’s not. Users don’t always vote for the most helpful answer, they vote for the most entertaining answer. For example, in the case of the CAPS LOCK question, the best answer chosen was, “IT’S FOREVER IRREVERSIBLE! THE SAME THING HAPPENED TO ME!” Alternatively, it’s voted in by the person who asked the question: “Am I right, or is my boss right?”
“Well, I’ll vote for the guy who says that I’m right. Right?”
But you know how sometimes the best answer to someone’s question is not the answer they want to hear? If you get to vote for your favorite answer, you’ll never hear what you don’t want to hear. You’ll just hear what you wanted to do in the first place.
But you know all this. You have no intention of taking whatever answer comes over the internet as the word of Hashem. All you’re looking for is someone who will listen to your question.
Shouldn’t you have those people in real life?