answers by email… NOW

I am intrigued by, Amazon’s answers-like service that allows you to ask questions via your phone [or other web enabled device] and they’ll email you back three answers, fast. Looks like the answers come from people working for and, if I’m not mistaken these answers generally take a minute or two and answerers get paid a few cents. The answers I’ve seen are your standard concise copy/paste web answers, they seem pretty good for factual type questions. Here are some examples

Is faceted indexing the future of social tagging?
What fast birds start with the letter A?
Where is the closest public bathroom to 3 Hanover Square NY NY 10004….um like NOW!

At some level it’s like being able to email someone to have them do a web search for you, I bet it becomes very popular and I’m curious to see how it fits in with Amazon’s other qanda product, Askville.

Contrast this to library email reference. In this example (which coincidentally came in to my inbox this week for an unrelated reason) where someone is trying to remember a book from their childhood (which, as we know, is a really typical reference query). The librarian, while excruciatingly thorough with the resources, does the standard librarian thing and teaches as he or she tries to answer the question. For an opening line to a response to a “what’s this book” question, this one is sort of…. daunting?

Fiction is usually cataloged by author and title, not by subject or plot line, which makes identifying books by their plot an often difficult endeavor. One of the best ways to find books for which you know only the plot is to ask other knowledgeable and well-read people for help. There are several resources you can consult to do this.

The answer is amazing if, like librarians, you look up books for people as your job. However, telling someone to subscribe to a listserv just to answer a “what’s this book” question seems a bit like overkill. Telling them to ask knowledgeable people seems to pave the way for the response “isn’t that what I just did?” In any case, names have been removed and this is not a “tut tut” post, just an interesting observation on the divergence of serious ref and ready ref.

3 thoughts on “ answers by email… NOW

  1. Third time’s the charm?

    I was floored by that response. Of the top of my head it is some version of Juan Bobo. After checking on Novelist, it is possibly Lazy Jack.

    I probably would have given that as a response with some info on how to use Novelist instead of a lengthy listing of resources with no indication of having tried to find the answer.

    Librarians post patron book “stumpers” on YALSA-BK all the time to get help finding the answer.

  2. As a Turker, I can confirm that the NowNow answers come from people working for If you supply an answer that passes basic verification you are usually paid one or two cents (though some questions don’t pay anything initially). However, if people rate your answer highly, you can get paid as much as $100 – depending on how highly your answer is rated compared to other answers for the same question. NowNow also awards monthly bonuses for the people who receive the highest “grades” as answerers (is that a word?!). I’ve never won a monthly bonus, but I have won an answer award before.

  3. And ~ for all the folklorists out there ~ we shouldn’t forget “Epaminandos,” another cultural variant to “Juan Bobo” and “Lazy Jack.”

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