Archive for the 'Answers Spotlight' Category

Google Answers…Questions, Questions, Questions

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Question #1…Why does my back hurt?

I don't know the answer, but it does (oh boy, does it!), and since I'm stuck at home with some idle time on my hands, I've done something rather geekishly amusing.

I took a look at 610 questions posted to Google Answers during the month of June.

This isn't the total month's worth of questions, but it's a pretty good chunk, and perhaps of interest to see how the questions were distributed:

14 were $200 questions, only 2 of which have been answered thus far.

43 were between $100-$200

69 were between $50-$100

155 were for $5 or less

170 questions have been answered

107 questions have expired, most before the 30 day 'natural' expiration date. No doubt many others will expire as the calendar counts down.

The top Google Answers customers

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

Who are the top customers of Google Answers?

My researcher colleagues and I were wondering about this a few weeks ago. We haven’t done a thorough check (because we aren’t allowed to crawl the Answers database), but we think we have identified the top few customers.

Probonopublico-ga takes the lead, with 532 questions asked, of which 331 have been answered.

Quite a way behind is shoaib-ga, with 273 questions (112 answered).

Also with 112 questions answered is grthumongous-ga, who has asked 181 questions, followed by blucken-ga at 168 asked, 91 answered. There’s also joel1357-ga who has asked 124 questions (93 answered).

If you know a highly-curious customer who we’ve missed, please post a comment.

Advert juxtapositions on Google Answers

Monday, July 3rd, 2006

The context-sensitive advertisements that appear on Google Answers are matched to the text of the surrounding webpage by a process that is “untouched by human hands”.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that occasionally some rather odd juxtapositions occur between Google’s AdSense and the surrounding question and answer.

I’m not sure if the advertisement shown with this question is going to put the questioner’s mind at ease…


Too much information!

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

There are some things that it’s best not to know about. Konrad Adenauer, echoing Bismarck, once said that “People sleep easier when they do not know what goes into making politics and sausages”.

If you don’t already know what natural sausage casings are made from, you’d be well advised not to click the link.

But people are curious, and there are plenty of Google Answers questions that you might not want to read prior to eating.

Or drinking. Do you want to know how to render human or animal urine safe to drink? I don’t, but redhoss-ga was happy to take on bethc50-ga’s $35 question.

You would think that “Most unaccountably popular pop song” would be a safe question to read, and indeed it is until you get to the part where knowledge_seeker-ga advises that:

“It’s a Small World” is the universal antidote song — guaranteed to remove any other song from your brain. However, it should be used with caution as there is no known method for removing it.

When richard-ga was helping to identify carpet worms for beeb-ga, he couldn’t resist telling his own worm story, but at least he prefixed it with the words “Squeamish people may wish to stop reading at this point”.

Alvarez469-ga wanted to know “the worst and strongest foul odor available for purchase on line” and omniscientbeing-ga was able to tell him what it is and where to buy some.

Tutuzdad-ga has no qualms about answering these kinds of questions. He was able to go into specific detail about why you wouldn’t want to boil eggs together with your vegetables, and he also offered help for the poop-eating dog (would you believe that adding spinach to the dog’s diet might make it too disgusting even for the dog to eat?).

The question “How much pus can milk have in it and still be sold legally” was asked and answered twice – in 2002 and 2005. You probably don’t want to know the answer.

If you got this far through this blog post, you must have a pretty strong stomach. In that case, you won’t mind knowing that those little mini droplets that you sometimes feel near trees on a sunny evening are actually insect excretia. I could even handle answering that one.

A car that runs on water?

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

Google Answers customer madman514-ga had been offered plans for making a car that runs on water. He thought it was maybe too good to be true, and posted a question asking whether it would really work

The basic idea is that electricity from the car battery is used to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then burned to propel the car.


For sure, it’s not going to work. But the information is presented in such a plausible way that I can see why some people might think it will work.

There are a number of different levels at which the answer can be approached:

Physics: The law of conservation of energy tells us right away that producing hydrogen from the water is going to require at least as much energy as we gain by burning the hydrogen and thereby turning it back into water.

Disclaimers: If it is really going to work, why are there so many disclaimers on the website that offers the plans? The disclaimers, by the way, are written to sound so helpful, so sincere. They caution you to save all the parts so that you can put your car back together again in case you can’t get it to work. They caution you to use an old car that won’t cause any problems if it becomes undriveable.

Motives: If it works, why haven’t the people offering the plans already converted their own cars? The most they will admit to is that they “see no reason why it wouldn’t work”.

Money: If it works, why aren’t the people who offer the plans getting rich by converting people’s cars at a thousand dollars a time?

Human nature: The water-to-hydrogen conversion mechanism is fully-described by a US patent which is referenced on the website offering the plans, and which is also widely available on the internet. If it really produced more energy at its output than it required at its input, wouldn’t there be massive academic interest in it?

The asker priced the question at $2.50, so I didn’t write a dissertation on the conservation of energy, but I gave quite a lengthy reply because the question interested me.

I sure hope I am able to save the guy’s time, money and car!

(photo by John Evans)

How many ants in the world?

Thursday, June 8th, 2006

In the days before the world wide web, not many people would have known how many ants there were in the world.


And if you wanted to find out, it wouldn’t have been obvious where to begin looking. Would a trip to the University library yield the information, or would it result in a whole day wasted?

Perhaps the best way to find out would have been to locate a friendly biologist who might already know, and might be prepared to tell you if you flattered him or her by calling them an “ant expert”.

Thank goodness for search engines! Now, the information is out there for everyone to see – although that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to find.

Recently, deadman43-ga asked a simple $5 question: “How many ants are there in the world?“. Bobbie7-ga rose to the challenge and was able to tell him that according to “ant expert E O Wilson, there are an estimated 100,000,000,000,000,000 ants in the world”.

Last year, pinkfreud-ga was able to assure monroe22-ga that yes, the total biomass of ants really does exceed the biomass of all the people in the world. So, incidentally, does the total biomass of squid and of antarctic krill.

Pinkfreud’s husband was so moved by this that he felt compelled to suggest that all humans should be eating more junk food in order to increase our biomass as quickly as possible!

I suppose that eating ants would help even more.

(photo by hagit berkovich)