People who need people need AskMetaFilter

December 31, 2007

I’m a regular Googler. It’s my first stop when I need information.  

But sometimes we have questions that Google cannot answer. Questions that even the most skilled search engine cannot fathom. Questions that require direct human intervention. That’s where Ask MetaFilter comes in.

For example, you see a weird bug in your garage and want to ID it. Just post a picture and your question on Ask MetaFilter and voilá, the network of readers will provide an answer. The strange bug was identified within 10 minutes.

Another person wrote in:

Looking for the name of a book I read as a youngster.

My husband mentioned Lucky Strike cigarettes today, and I had a flashback to a book I barely remember.

The main character is an Asian girl who has just moved to the U.S. She doesn’t speak English at first, but memorizes a Disney record or something when she has to speak in front of the class.

She sees another Asian girl and tries to speak her native language, but the girl doesn’t speak it.

Someone sends her to the store to buy Lucky Strike cigarettes, but she can’t get them because she can’t pronounce the name right.

I googled several combinations of search terms and came up with nothing. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In a little over 1/2 an hour the answer came: In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Bette Bao Lord.

Over the holidays, we entertained our relatives by reading some of the questions as we sat around the living room. (Naturally, Steve had set up a wireless network as soon as he arrived at my mom and dad’s house in Minneapolis.)

Ann Landers and “Dear Abby” fans will enjoy reading the questions that fall in the “human relations” category. Recently a young man wrote: “Tonight my car broke down and my girlfriend refused to come help.” The advice poured in. 

This forum has several advantages over the old newspaper columns.

  1. You don’t have to wait for your letter to be published.
  2. You get many, wide-ranging opinions and suggestions.
  3. You have a chance to follow up (as the poster did in the example above) to provide more information and even describe how the problem was resolved.

Ask MetaFilter uses tags to categorize posts and you can search their archives going back to June 1999. Given the platform and the audience, there’s a trove of answers to technical and computer-related questions.  

You may want to add it to your online reference list or use the RSS feed.