Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

Corporate Secrets

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Behind the dismal state of global economics these days, there’s a largely unrecognized culprit at work: the almost universal belief that corporations are entitled to keep secrets.

Some secrets are small, almost petty. When General Motors was chastised for flying into Washington DC on luxurious corporate jets, in order to beg Congress for bailout funds, their reaction was classic. They tried to keep their flights secret. GM asked federal aviation authorities to remove the company jets from the public database that shows flightplans for most aircraft.

Some secrets are unbelievably stupid. The same week that AIG received its bailout billions, they made a bad decision to send their corporate executives to a meeting at an exclusive resort. When news of the meeting broke, and general outrage grew, AIG’s response was a classic: they tried to hold their next meeting in secret!!!

But these are small potatoes. The big secrets that companies keep are the ones that wind up costing billions and ruining lives. No one ever really knew what Enron was doing in its energy trading business, or how Bernie Madoff was so unbelievably successful with his investment funds (a 2001 profile of Madoff in Barron’s magazine was titled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and made a huge point of how secretive Madoff was, and how skeptical his fellow fund managers were of Madoff’s results).

Even companies on the straight and narrow do enormous damage with the secrets they keep. Enron and Madoff were crooks, with obvious reasons to hide their activities. But AIG kept its collateralized debt obligation (CDO) business largely under wraps, until that little-known, little-understood segment of its business dragged down the entire company, and unbelievably, the collapse of this single company appeared to seriously threaten the global economy. When a corporation is that big — too big to fail, as the saying goes — it is also too big to be keeping secrets.

I’ve started a blog, No More Corporate Secrets, to give some visibility to this issue, which I think is largely unappreciated in the corporate and financial world, as well as among the government and NGO entities that are supposed to be the overseers of the world of business.

Please put it on your Favorites list, if this is of interest.

Google Answers is Dead! Long Live Google Answers!

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Want to know what one ex-GA Researcher (me, as a matter of fact) thinks of the decline and fall of Google Answers?

Read the article in the latest issue of FreePint.

If you’re not familiar with Freepint, it’s a great search-and-information-oriented newsletter out of the UK…one of the few I allow past my spam filters. Worth a look…

Happy new year, all.


P.S. Some other links I want to tell you about:

Free newspaper archives in the US, by state

Free newspaper archives, international

Free newspaper archives in the US, by region

Free newspaper archives in the UK

Free newspaper archives in Canada

Free newspaper archives in France

Free newspaper archives in Australia and New Zealand

These are great resources for historical research, and all free!

Lastly, here’s a subscription service for archived newspapers that’s far and away the best available… Well worth a visit.

We Thank You All

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006


When Google Answers debuted in the spring of 2002, we, the undersigned, enjoyed the unique opportunities of participating as Google Answers Researchers.

At this time, we wish to publicly express our gratitude to Google, and especially to Andrew Finks and Lexi Baugher, the visionary team behind Larry Page’s rough idea for Google Answers. Finks and Baugher created and championed not only a premium Q&A feature for Google, they unwittingly set into motion the creation of a premium Internet community.

We wish to also publicly thank our many loyal clients without whom Google Answers would not have been successful. For nearly five years, we delighted in tackling your informational challenges, many times learning from the knowledge you requested.

While we are saddened by Google’s decision to retire the Google Answers feature, we are proud to have served such an impressive company, software team, and client base, in our capacities as information specialists.

“Learning is not attained by chance,” wrote Abigail Adams, “it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”

We agree.

Knowledge_Seeker-ga: Kimberly Gerson, Ontario, Canada
Tlspiegel-ga: Toby Lee, Phoenix AZ, US
Guillermo-ga: Guillermo Arnaudo, Patagonia, Argentina
Journalist-ga: Emily Moore, Knoxville TN, US
Rainbow-ga: Linda Al-Wadi, Lebanon
Cynthia-ga: Cynthia Lystad, Seattle WA, US
Till-ga: Tillmann Stoffel-Kueppers, Juelich, Germany
Missy-ga: Maggie Brazeau, Toledo OH, US
Hedgie-ga: Petr F., Czech Republic, EU
Crabcakes-ga: Barbara (Susie) Cannon, Glendale AZ, US
Politicalguru-ga: Tamar PG
Umiat-ga: June Dufford, Utah, US
Eiffel-ga: Roger Browne, England, UK
Mother911-ga: Ralph Peragine, Long Island NY, US
Scriptor-ga: Oliver Henkel, Germany
Pafalafa-ga: David Sarokin, Washington DC, US
Answerfinder-ga: Phil George, UK
Clouseau-ga: Bob Ulius, Palo Alto CA, US
Hummer-ga: Patricia B., Québec, Canada
Nenna-ga: Jennifer Pringle, Omaha NE, US
Angy-ga: Angela Cockburn, Sydney NSW, AU
Czh-ga: Clara Horvath, California, US
Aceresearcher-ga: Jo, US and New Zealand
Mathtalk-ga: Chip Eastham, Knoxville TN, US
Nancylynn-ga: Nancy, PA, US

Mvguy-ga: Montana, US
Byrd-ga: Chris Rogers, Austin TX, US
Sublime1-ga: John Everest, Phoenix AZ, US
Tutuzdad-ga: Mike Simmons, Arkansas, US
Keystroke-ga: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US

Larre-ga: L. Rowan
Bobbie7-ga: Bobbie

Festive Meta

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Thanks to everyone who helped establish this blog, and who posted entries or comments over the past seven months. The readership continues to slowly but steadily grow.

I’ll be away until early January. If the site needs urgent attention, admins include Missy, Sublime1 and Pafalafaga. If the site goes down, well the server is on my home computer so it will probably stay down until I return.

Have a wonderful festive season, and let’s look forward to plenty of productive searching and researching during 2007!

Another take on Google Answers

Monday, December 4th, 2006


Most outsiders who comment on the closure of Google Answers spin it along the lines of “Yahoo Answers has won the battle”. Those of us who were researchers know that this is as bogus as saying that “McDonalds has won the battle against the fine restaurant next door”. Each has its own turf, with only a small overlap. It doesn’t have to be “one or the other”; they can co-exist.

Google employee Matt Cutts, on his blog, has a quite different take on the closure. He describes the axing of GA as if it were pruning dead wood or throwing out stagnant water. That’s not how most researchers view it, of course. We think of it as throwing out a cherished but neglected item instead of refurbishing and improving it.

There are some insightful comments to Matt’s post.

(Matt is head of the Webspam team at Google, and the image above is from his blog. It’s supposed to represent a sword slicing through spam, but just at the moment it evokes something different…)

So long, and thanks for all the fiche

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

On this last day of Google Answers, I cannot help but be saddened by the demise of what will no doubt go down in Internet history as the greatest collective paid information service of all time.

During my stint as a Google Answers Researcher, I had the pleasure to assist many people in their quests for information as well as to learn volumes from my colleagues’ excellent research skills. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for a unique web experience that I will deeply treasure for the remainder of my days.

~journalist-ga, table 42, restaurant at the end of the Googleverse

Tipping behaviour of Google Answers customers

Monday, November 6th, 2006

A study by the University of Bristol entitled Why Voluntary Contributions? Google Answers! attempts to analyse and explain the tipping behaviour of customers of Google Answers.

Personally I think the Bristol guys have too much time on their hands, and that there are better ways to spend one's time than drawing up dozens of hypothetical formulae to describe a phenomenon that can be explained in one sentence as: Some customers tip; the researchers like it; there's not really any downside.

But it's an interesting insight into the minds of the people who work for the University of Bristol's Centre for Market and Public Organisation. Is Google Answers a market that needs to be organised? Isn't an “organised market” a contradiction in terms anyway?

Here's a taste, in case you've not yet been tempted to click:


(Thanks to hedgie-ga for bringing this to my attention.)

Portugese speaker required!

Monday, July 17th, 2006


The Portugese version of Wikipedia has a tiny stub of an article about Google Answers. Here’s a rough translation:

Google Answers is a service offered by Google which allows the users to submit any question and get an answer, by paying 2.50 dollars. An answer to a submitted question is edited by the community itself and sent to the user who asked it…

Clearly this needs some improvement, because the price is variable (from $2 to $200 plus the fifty cent listing fee), and because the paid answer is provided by a “carefully screened researcher” rather than “the community itself”.

So if you have the Portugese skills, please go ahead and edit the article. Anyone can edit Wikipedia!

(via politicalguru-ga and guillermo-ga)

What’s Wrong with Copyright?

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

The Constitution gives Congress authority over copyrights and patents — what we nowadays call intellectual property — with the usual spare language of the founders:

The Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8

Couple of key things, here.

First off, the whole purpose of these protections are to promote progress in science and “useful arts” (no protection for any non-useful arts, eh? Looks like Family Guy is fair game).

Secondly, any protection afforded is for a limited time.

How limited? Inventors get patent protection for anywhere from 14 to 20 years, depending on the type of patent. So how come inventors get a decade or two, and writers, musicians and other ‘creative’ types get a century or more?

Actually a copyright holder gets life plus seventy years! If you reproduce this paragraph without my permission anytime while I’m alive, I can sue your whoozitz off. Once I kick the bucket, my heirs can still sue you and your whoozitz for another 70 years. If I live another 80 years, then this here paragraph is protected a grand total of 150 years, and you can feel free to begin reproducing it anytime after May 25, 2156.

Does 150 years of absolute control over my paragraphs really do anything to promote the progress of the useful arts?

Do artists really need a century more protection than inventors?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding No. But even if you disagree — even if you feel that copyright protection should be longer and stronger than it is — it’s still hard to avoid the conclusion that copyright is profoundly dysfunctional in its current form.

The two key problems with copyright are these…

next up…the two problems

david sarokin aka pafalafaga