[note: a slightly different version of this article,with a bit more subsequent info, is being published in Searcher magazine in January. For the record, Google thinks I resigned, I think it was a bit of a forced resignation. Read on...]
I had a really surreal experience trying to resign from Google answers today. As you know, I wrote an article about Google Answers for Searcher Magazine that was recently published. In the Researcher Newsletter I received this morning, I saw this note:
Publishing Articles about Google Answers
It has been brought to our attention recently that Researchers have published articles on outside sites without first notifying the Google Answers Editors. Please note that Google's corporate communications department must review all copy (press articles, web copy, etc.) regarding Google Answers and/or your experience as a Researcher before it is published. This is a very important matter that could significantly affect the status of this service if we do not follow the proper approval procedures. If a Researcher publishes an article prior to receiving approval from Google's communications department, their privileges will be revoked. If you have questions on this policy please write to email@example.com .
Of course, I'd forgotten this clause of my contract. Of course, I assumed that I still had the right to tell stories about my own life if I wasn't disclosing corporate secrets or proprietary technological information. I rechecked and I am fairly certain that everything I wrote about is information that was available to a NON-researcher as well as to me. I tried to login and sure enough, I was blacklisted from Google Answers land, I could ask questions, but not respond to them, oh well. I hadn't done any work there since probably June anyhow. I figured the jig was up, so I thought I'd spend a little time composing an email to the GA staff tendering my official resignation and tell them what was up, perhaps fend off a potential lawsuit, who knows. I wrote this:
From: Jessamyn West
Subject: researcher jessamyn-ga
Date: Fri, 11 Oct 2002
hey there -- I wrote an article about Google Answers without going through Google's corporate communications department, I guess this means that my researcher status has been revoked. Just wanted to let you know, in case you missed it. As much as I liked working for Google Answers during my brief stint, I ultimately felt that it was more in my best interest and in the interests of other researchers that I tell my story without trying to get it through "corporate communications" and while I understand that technically this is against the rules, the sheer numbers of researchers who wrote me saying "yeah, that's exactly how I felt" makes me think that this was worth doing. Perhaps I should have resigned officially beforehand, but since I haven't answered a question since June, I guess that can be considered my de facto resignation.
You guys have a good product, but for those of us in professional information jobs [I am a librarian] it really denigrates the type of work that we do as salaried, educated professionals. Perhaps Google just has its own niche that is fully separate from the public libraries, but I personally feel that we're sunk if people start to treat reference questions and interactions as if they were supplier/consumer interactions. Libraries are in enough trouble as they are.
Best of luck in all your endeavors.
I was expecting a response somewhat along the lines of "We are very disappointed in you" or maybe just more relentless hypemachine talk like all the other stuff we get from them in their newsletters including [amazingly and insultingly] lots of "how to use Google" tips. What I didn't expect was this:
Thank you for your email.
We are interested in your remark that Google Answers denigrates the work of librarians and other information professionals. Many librarians like the fact that Google Answers helps people get the information they are looking for and, in fact, use Answers as a resource themselves.
If you have further thoughts or information that you believe would be helpful for us to know, we would greatly appreciate hearing from you again.
My best guess as to what exactly is going on here is twofold. One, they have no idea that I am one of their researchers, even though my subject line clearly stated that. Two, they barely read the email sent to them, and use even more form mail replies than I had previously thought. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure being a Google Answers editor is not the world's easiest job, and I'm sure with 400-500 researchers, they can't keep track of all of them, but to be singled out [I assume] in a recent newsletter and then not even get a personalized reply to my email was surprising, even for me, the cynical librarian.
If you've been reading this far, I do have one more question for you. Is what they said true? Do you think "many" librarians use Google Answers as a resource themselves? Where do you suppose they get the money to do this? How would Google even know this "fact" considering that most of their users are at least somewhat anonymous. If you are a librarian who has used Google Answers, I'd love to hear from you. And I still think information wants to be free, no matter what Google Answers says.