April 20, 2018

Google’s Fee Answer Service: Latest Reference Opportunity?

By LJ Staff

The latest online reference opportunity for librarians–and perhaps threat to
them–has arrived from Google, which is
beta-testing a fee-based
answer service
. Those who wish to qualify as a researcher must write a
paragraph, passing five sample questions, and submitting to user feedback. Fees
are also negotiable, and can range from $4 to $50. New is the nonrefundable $.50
fee to post a question, which may not be enough of a deterrent against frivolous
postings. In a little over two weeks since the service started April 9, there
were more than 400 questions posted.

Given Google’s reputation, this suggests potentially significant competition,
but other services with similarly limited standards have been offered before,
without great success. Contentville, backed by a number of powerful media
companies, offered a similar service and aimed to work with more than one major
library. The site folded last year with no further news about librarian
participation. Visits to surviving sites show little involvement by professional
librarians (advisors list qualifications) and a low or limited level of service.
Expertcentral.com is staffed by volunteers. AskEarth.com’s highest paid “expert”
earned $6.70 one week; qualifications seem to center on life experiences with
hardship. InfoRocket.com has become LiveAdvice.com. Under its research area,
rates range from $.99 to $5.50 per minute, by e-mail or telephone. Only one MLS
librarian was identified among the dozens of “experts.”