Paying for answers online
(Page 2 of 2)
When a lot is riding on the accuracy of information, you have to be critical and not too easily satisfied, says Ms. Quint. You have to be able to say, "It's the perfect answer, but it's totally unacceptable in terms of source."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Of course, you should check the profile of any expert before relying on one. And even then, don't assume the information is accurate. Many online experts are no more vetted than those in the yellow pages, warns R. David Lankes, assistant professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies.
Recently, for example, the No.1 legal expert on Askme.com turned out to be a 15-year-old who watched Court TV. So if an expert claims to have written a book, look it up on Amazon.com or an online public library catalog.
Keen.com encourages its experts to have their credentials verified by a third party, AbsoluteBackgrounds.com. The site also relies on professional partners for some of its experts, such as Intuit for tax advisers and Microsoft for tech pros.
Other Ask-A services, including Google Answers, use a rating systems to determine the quality of its researchers.
But Mr. Lankes scoffs at such ratings: "When you ask me something that you don't know the answer to, and I give you the answer, how can you rate that?"
He points to research within the library community that finds questioners will often report being satisfied with a reference answer even when it is completely wrong or off target.
In an effort to reestablish their primary role of helping people find information, librarians are increasingly taking their expertise online.
At the Library of Congress, Diane Kresh heads the development of a major library Ask-A service called Questionpoint (http://www.questionpoint.org/). The service links a growing number of libraries worldwide to offer a network of specialized researchers with library science credentials. Currently, questions must go through a librarian, but Ms. Kresh expects to open remote access to the general public sometime this summer.
Other library answer sites such as the Los Angeles Public Library (http://www.247ref.org) are already open to anyone on the web free of charge.
"[Librarians] are going where the users are; that's the model we've adopted," Kresh says. "We'll go to them, and they're at their desktop."
Libraries have a natural advantage with access to some of the best information available in the form of books and other print material, portions of which can be electronically scanned and delivered online. Most libraries also subscribe to proprietary databases from Lexis-Nexis, Gale, and EBSCO, among others.
Particularly savvy researchers, be they librarians or from Google, will know how to reach online information outside the reach of search engines, says Gary Price, co-author of "Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See."
Some of this "invisible" information, Mr. Price says, sits in databases not accessible to search engines, behind firewalls, or on sites that block indexing.