A post by Joel Spolsky announcing a new site he and Jeff Atwood are building (stackoverflow.com) covers the same theme as my recent Don’t believe everything you read, In the process of describing why he’s doing this, he nailed one of my pet peeves. In this passage, he’s talking about programmers, but he could just as easily be talking about newbie end users or IT professionals or Exchange administrators:
[T]hey happily program away, using trial-and-error. When they can’t figure something out, they type a question into Google.
And sometimes, the first result looks like it’s going to have the answer to their exact question, and they are excited, until they click on the link, and discover that it’s a pay site, and the answer is cloaked or hidden or behind a pay-wall, and you have to buy a membership.
And you won’t even get an expert answer. You’ll get a bunch of responses typed by other programmers like you. Some of the responses will be wrong, some will be right, some may be out of date, and it’s hard to imagine that with the cooperative spirit of the internet this is the best thing we programmers have come up with.
Joel’s too polite to mention the sites he’s talking about, but I’m not. I am sick and tired of looking up an error message or a troubleshooting term and getting taken to a link at Experts-exchange.com (I won’t include a link, because I don’t want to send them the traffic and it would only annoy you to see this in action). When you click on that link, you get to read the question someone asked, which is pretty close to the question you asked, but the answers are cloaked with text that says you have to pay for a membership before you’re allowed to read the replies. And it’s apparent from the structure of the replies that there’s no “expert” involved, just a bunch of other (paid) user/members.
Now, I have no argument with Experts Exchange trying to make a living with this economic model. If it works for them, good. But I do object to Google indexing these results and sending me to sites where the landing page is a teaser rather than the actual content I’m looking for. I’m not sure how to register that complaint, but I do know that the Google spider pays a visit here every so often, so maybe I just did.
(h/t to Dwight Silverman for the pointer)