Google Answers: Ask Whatever You Like, Except About Google

We wrote
about Google pulling a question at Google Answers about Google.
Philipp Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped followed-up further and found that Google
officially disallows people to ask questions about the company because the
researchers at Google Answers aren’t Google employees.

Got that? Freelance researchers are apparently qualified to answer questions
about any other company in the world, but when it comes to Google, special
treatment is required. Incredible.

In Google
Answers Question Removed
, Philipp says he was told:

Questions about Google, Google Search, and search engine optimization are
not allowed because Google Answers researchers are not employees of Google.
Researchers don?t have access to any ?inside? information. The information
they do have access to is available for free on the Google help pages or by
writing to Google support.

And Steve Hall, who started this all when his question was rejected earlier
this week,

We’d like to clarify the reason for removal of this question. Please note
that Google Answers researchers are not employees of Google. They are
independent contractors, and they only have access to information about Google
and Google Search that is publicly available. Therefore, all users with
questions about Google and/or Google Search are directed to these Google
support pages.

In the comments to Steve’s post, someone raises a good point that Google
might have this policy to help keep those getting responses from thinking they
are getting “official” information from Google. I can understand that. But that
can also be dealt with differently than just removing questions wholescale. And
no questions on search engine optimization, as Philipp was told? Please.

For the record, the Google Answers FAQ
says this
about questions that aren’t allowed:

Google Answers discourages and may remove questions that:

  • request private information about individuals
  • want assistance in conducting illegal activities
  • are meant to sell or advertise products
  • refer or relate to adult content
  • are homework or exam questions
  • seek specific information about Google or Google Answers (email

Fair to say, I think that last line should go. People should be able to ask
about Google and Google Answers, at the very least because such restrictions
make the entire system seem silly.

More important, the Google help pages and other information about Google do
NOT have everything you’d want to know about Google. Consider:

  • How does Google technically perform censorship in China? (Answer —

    good New York Times article, with info not on the Google web site
    that I know of)
  • How did a web site recently get so many spam pages indexed so quickly
    in Google?
    (Answer — our
    article is
    one of many that explains its both a glitch with Google’s site: command plus
    probably just a big problem with Google’s spam control pages, something not
    covered on the Google web site)
  • Is it cloaking if the New York Times puts up a page in front of those
    clicking from Google to reach paid articles?
    (Answer — it’s a matter of
    going on
    in our Search Engine Watch Forums. Google has general guidelines,
    but there’s no agreement on whether these apply. And there’s nothing on the
    Google site giving a definitive answer).

Out of curiosity, I did a little searching at Google Answers to see if much
was getting through about Google. Not much, that I could see. But this question
caught my eye,
Mod Rewrite code for the .htaccess file
. It asks:

I have a website called it is written in php i need to
know the code to put in the htaccess file to make it search engine friendly
using mod_rewrite as at the moment its not effectivly spidered.

The answer was a list of pointers to other sites, all of which look pretty
useful to me, someone who is not an expert. But the person asking also raised a
good point:

If asking a Php code question i think the answer should be provided by
someone who knows PhP code.

Which got him this over-the-top response:

Apparently you negelected to read the FAQs for the Google Answers service:

“Are Researchers experts in their field?”

“All Google Researchers are tested to ensure that they are expert searchers
with excellent communication skills. Some of them also have expertise in
various fields. Your question may be answered by an expert in a particular
field or by an expert searcher. Either way, if you are unsatisfied with your
answer for any reason, you may apply for a full refund.”

Our job is to provide an answer to your question. If we personally lack the
expertise to do so, we seek out authoritative resources on the internet.

Therefore, I referred you to an authoritative site which provided
information which was extremely specific to your question. To imply that the
authors of The SEO Toolset website are not experts in their topic, when they
authored precisely the information you requested, and created precisely the
URL Rewriting Tool which you so badly need, is the heighth of insolence and

I would request that my answer be removed by the editors, simply to remove
the taint of my association with you, but they tend not to remove answers
which have satisfactorily answered the question.

If you ever plan to use this service again, I suggest you register under a
different username, given the fact that other researchers will be more than
reluctant to deal with someone who doesn’t bother to inform themselves about
what to expect from the service.

Ouch. I can understand the researcher feeling slighted. But it’s also a fair
opinion to have, that it would be nice if an actual expert in the area answered
the question. Which brings it back to Google’s censorship of questions about
itself. It’s OK for people to research things like PHP and rewriting, even if
they have no expertise in them — but Google itself is too sensitive a topic?

Oh, but remember, people can write to Google Support to get real expert
advice. You mean like
I did when
Gmail went down for me last week? You mean like Tom Foremski

over at Silicon Valley Watcher when Gmail went down for him yesterday? I
don’t think he got a response. I know I didn’t — and this is now a week after I
had my problem.

Instead, I hunted and hunted through support areas and eventually guessed
that a solution for an entirely different problem might work for me. It did. But
go read my Getting Gmail To
Resume POP Access With Captcha Unlock
article, because it explains just how
lame the Gmail support documentation is in terms of helping people with this
problem. And yet, that’s what Google Answers thinks is fine for people to use
instead of being able to ask questions?

And as for company questions, while asking about Google is off limits, these
are fine:

Apparently, having researchers answer questions about other companies without
inside information is OK. It’s only Google itself that needs special protection.

What do you think? Should the policy change? I’m going to ask in two places
and will postscript links here. The first will be our Search Engine Watch
Forums. The second will be Yahoo Answers, where there are no restrictions about
asking about Google — or Yahoo — that
I can see.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons it’s growing by leaps-and-bounds, as covered
in my recent article,
Look Out
Wikipedia, Here Comes Yahoo Answers!

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