I can't speak for the entire Researcher community, but I can certainly
speak for myself.
What do I think about Goodman's article? I think it's dreck. Even
ignoring his reputation for being wrong more often than he's right,
how can anyone who flings gratuitous insults at people who he doesn't
know - and who never did anything to him to merit such sandbox
tomfoolery! - be taken seriously by anyone with more than a pair of
neurons to smash together?
Come on, Brudenell. You don't really buy into that, do you? I don't
think you do. I think you're well clued in and would never
characterize our collection of scientists, authors, lawyers,
physicians, engineers, programmers, sysadmins and assorted
well-educated homebodies as "rubes that call themselves 'experts'".
Of course you wouldn't, so let's just ignore Goodman's outdated,
ego-inflated and just plain *wrong* assessment of Google Answers, and
talk about something else. You know, the *interesting* things.
Why don't we start with your question about the number of questions
currently being asked. You're correct in that we did indeed hover
near 3000 for quite a while. If memory serves, however, that was back
before we passed our one year anniversary and still had questions left
in the system from the early days. In the first weeks of the project,
customers could set an expiration time of anywhere from one week to
one year, and quite a few set theirs for one year.
Those disappeared from the "currently being asked" number upon
expiring. Since then, we seem to hover around 2000, give or take a
couple hundred on any given day.
Why does that number decrease? Well, there are several reasons that
the "currently being asked" number will fluctuate:
1) We're answering the questions. One Researcher recently estimated
that, on average, about 100 questions get answered every day.
Occasionally, many more are answered - that really depends on who is
available to answer questions on any given day. Once a question is
answered, it disappears from the "currently being asked" tally.
2) Customers cancel their questions. This isn't necessarily
indicative of dissatisfaction. Sometimes, a customer will get an
answer free of charge in the comments, and will close the question.
Sometimes the customer will do a little fishing on his own and find
the answer without our help. Sometimes, the customer accidentally
closes the question, when he actually meant to do something else.
Sometimes, he'll just change his mind. Once a question is closed, it
is no longer reflected in the tally.
3) A question is removed by the Editors. There are a number of
reasons the Editors may choose to remove a question from the queue.
If a question contains foul language, personal contact information
(such as telephone or social security numbers), asks for help with
doing something illegal, or is completely unintelligible (for example,
someone posts a few search terms as a question), the Editors will
remove it. Occasionally, a question will be removed because of an
account problem or because the user has abused the system in some
fashion. Those likewise disappear from the count.
4) A question expires unanswered. Yes, alas, it happens. Some
questions never see an "official" answer posted, for a variety of
reasons. Most Researchers won't touch a question that has been
answered in the comments (this happens often). Some questions are
woefully underpriced, and no one is interested in investing several
hours of work for a net gain of a buck and a half. Sometimes
(often!), the information a customer needs is locked away in
thousand-dollar market research reports or in expensive
subscriber-only databases that we simply do not have access to.
Sometimes, an acceptable answer is just not available. There is such
a thing as information too obscure to find.
Expiration takes a question out of that tally, too.
Add all of these to normal business factors:
-- questions get posted in fits and starts. Some days see more
questions posted than others.
-- questions tend to expire in clusters, making it appear that the
overall count is faltering.
-- Google Answers, like any other business, has busy times and slow
times that can vary from day to day and month to month. If lots of
questions are asked during busy times, and some of those expire
unanswered thirty days later, a seemingly sizable chunk is going to
disappear from that "currently being asked" tally, and make it look
like the project is hurting. It makes things look even worse when
this number drops during a lull, but lulls are *normal*, and I don't
think we need to panic every time we hit one.
I don't think we're doing badly at all. Sure, things appear to be a
little slow at the moment, but the fact is, we're answering questions
quickly and removing them from the tally. We have an archive of
16,497 questions asked since Google Answers launched last April, and
that number grows every day.
My opinion of where we're going hasn't changed in a year and a half of
answering. We're going to be around for a good long time, no matter
what Andrew Goodman thought he knew just a few days after the project
As long as customers like you think we're the cat's pajamas, that's
really all that matters, isn't it? After all, it's the customers
keeping us in business, not the pundits.