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Magazines > Searcher > January 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 1 — January 2003
Feature
Google Answers Back Or How to Become an Ex-"Google Answers" Researcher
by Jessamyn West• Proprietor, Librarian.net

In the October 2002 issue of Searcher Magazine, I wrote an article about Google Answers that was not overly critical, but not fawning either ["Information for Sale: My Experience with Google Answers"]. In the Researcher Newsletter I received from Google the following week, I saw this note:

EDITORIAL POLICY
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 answers-editors@google.com.

Of course, I'd forgotten this clause of my contract, if it ever existed. Of course, I assumed that I still had the right to tell stories about my own life as long as I didn't disclose corporate secrets or proprietary technological information. I re-checked and am fairly certain that everything I discussed was and is information available to a NON-Researcher as well as to me. I hadn't done any work there since June, anyhow. Nevertheless, I figured the jig was up, so I thought I'd spend a little time composing an e-mail to the GA staff tendering my "official" resignation, in lieu of my probable firing, and tell them what was up. I wrote this:

From: Jessamyn West 
Subject: researcher jessamyn-ga

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without going through Google's corporate communications department, I guess this means that my Researcher status has been revoked.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 it is.

Best of luck in all your endeavors.

jessamyn-ga

I expected a response somewhat along the lines of, "We are very disappointed in you," or maybe just more relentless hype-machine talk like all the other stuff we get from them in their newsletters, including [amazingly and insultingly] lots of "how to use Google" tips. I checked my login status a few hours after I sent this note and, sure enough, I was no longer a researcher. I could ask questions now but not answer them. Perhaps I hadn't been one for weeks, I honestly didn't know. 

What I didn't expect from Google was this:

Hello Jessamyn-ga,

Thank you for your e-mail.

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.

Best regards,

The Google Answers Team

Here is my best guess as to what exactly was going on: One, they have no idea that I was one of their Researchers, even though my subject line clearly stated that. Two, they barely read the e-mail 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 e-mail surprised even me, the cynical librarian.

I sent another e-mail to them asking what was up, whether I was fired and what the policy on publishing articles was, anyhow. Upon checking, the clause in the newsletter did not appear in any of the published documents I agreed to or signed when I began working for them. I never heard back. Of the two other Researchers who had published articles about Google Answers, one had been fired and then re-instated once he agreed to the errors of his ways and because he had "media affiliation[s]." His original article is still available online at http://www.geek.com/features/silicon/071702.htm.

My second message to them got a reply in which they indicated that, despite the fact that I broke no current policy, I had broken a pending "no publish" policy, one that would apply to all current and future researchers, but now currently appears only in the "Don'ts" section of the training manual. Despite the fact that our contract states that we are not employees and may not call ourselves employees, we are still required to clear our published communications [including Weblog entries] through Google's corporate communications department, via the Answers editors.

One small change occurred in this new policy between the time it was published in the newsletter and when it became official policy. In the newsletter, it states that if a Researcher publishes an article without permission "their privileges will be revoked." This sentence has changed to "their privileges may be revoked" in the manual. Perhaps the present tense language concerning the editorial policy was premature? 

They continued in their note to me:

If any Researcher does not want to adhere to this addition to the contract between Google Answers and the Researcher, he/she can e-mail us ... to discuss the issue. As a side note, the Researcher Guidelines, part of the Google Answers contract with Researchers, will be updated shortly on the Answers Web site to include this addition.

I had asked if I could be reinstated, since my "resignation" was clearly premature and not entirely intended, and was told I would be welcomed back if would agree to the "new" contract, as all Researchers would be required to do. 

I decided against it; I think I have one more article left to write. Do you think "many" librarians use Google Answers as a resource themselves? Where do you suppose cash-poor libraries would even get the money to do this? How would Google even know this "fact" considering that most of their users are at least somewhat anonymous?

I understand how and why all this fracas happened, and I'm sympathetic, to a point. But I still think information wants to be free, no matter what Google Answers says, and that includes being able to talk about your job without losing it.
 
Documentation
[All Google-able, No Confidential Info Here]

Training Manual
https://answers.google.com/answers/researchertraining.html — guidelines & FAQ

Contracts
https://answers.google.com/answers/researcherguidelines.html — researcher contract
https://answers.google.com/answers/researchercontract.html


Jessamyn West is a freelance librarian and researcher. She runs the librarian.net Web site. You can reach her at www.jessamyn.com/mailme.html.
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