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Newsletter No.221

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FreePint 4th January 2007

 About FreePint

FreePint is a global network of people who find, use, manage and share work-related information. Members receive this free twice-monthly newsletter, packed with tips, features and resources.

Joining FreePint is free at <> and connects information practitioners around the world with resources, events and answers to their tricky research and information questions at the FreePint Bar, our free online forum: <>.

Please share FreePint with others by forwarding this message. The FreePint Newsletter is available online in several formats and can be read, saved and forwarded at <>.


By Monique Cuvelier, Editor, FreePint

Monique CuvelierAny good mystery begins with a death, a lost jewel and a vague excuse. In the movies a dashing character -- often moustachioed and frequently wearing a sand-coloured overcoat -- solves the puzzle, making all the pieces fit together as if they'd never been apart.

In real life, however, mysteries don't always end so neatly. Sometimes there's no solution at all, and we're simply left scratching our heads.

MysteryThat's what many are still doing over Google's abrupt closure of Google Answers last month. The service, which employed a raft of researchers who unearthed answers to Internet-submitted questions for a fee, ended on the first of December. It was a creative, useful and interesting service -- one mimicked by Yahoo! and Microsoft with free offerings -- and many are still trying to make sense of its demise.

Not least of all David Sarokin, a frequent FreePint contributor who worked for Google Answers until its closure. He writes a requiem for his former employer and speculates on the success of its competitors.

With every death comes a birth, and in this issue we look at the rapid rise of mobile search, specifically travel-related search. Gary Price, editor of FreePint's sister publications ResourceShelf and DocuTicker, shares a wealth of knowledge that can help you navigate information while you're on the road.

And we also take a closer look at a family of tutorials on W3Schools. Our review examines how well they teach internet technologies.

Let me know what you think about these articles, past coverage and what you'd like to see in 2007 <>. Looking forward to seeing you here throughout the year.


Monique Cuvelier
Editor, FreePint
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VIP compares the 'Big Three'

See how they measure up - Factiva, LexisNexis and Thomson news services compared in the latest issue of VIP. Additionally, find out what virtual information professionals are getting up to in Second Life. <>

 My Favourite Tipples

By Tim Houghton

Tim HoughtonI've been running a new media monitoring firm for seven years, and here are a few sites that help me keep tabs on what's happening in web-based media right now.

  • What's hot and what's not in the world of new media? Here's one way to find out: Alexa <> provides audience data for thousands of sites and is useful for identifying important ones.

  • Tracking the blogosphere is another challenge, and Technorati does a great job. But it's always good to have an alternative, and I think Sphere <> is a decent blog search engine.

  • My company also makes heavy use of online collaborative tools. I think 37Signals <> offer some great web services software to help you work with others online.

  • Fred Wilson's A VC Blog <> stands out among venture capital types. A very sharp guy, and he recommends the occasional decent bit of music, too!

  • When I finally finish work, gastropubs and good restaurants are where I like to wind down. In a crowded marketplace I think Concierge <> is an up-and-coming guide.

Tim Houghton is the founder of New Media Intelligence, a web-monitoring firm. New Media Intelligence are the equivalent of a press clipping agency for the web, monitoring over 15,000 global media sources.

Submit your top five favourite Web sites. See the guidelines at <>.

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By Monique Cuvelier


Letters from solicitors, generating waste and new students are all hot topics on FreePint. Read below for summaries, add your thoughts and then forward this newsletter to a friend or colleague.

  • What would it take for you to accept a place at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design? A potential new student is looking for thoughts <> from those who are acquainted with the university. Let her know if you have information or anecdotes.

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Resource of the Week: UN Library Weblog

Get a weekly recommendation for quality, full-text, free web-based resources to add to your online reference collection. Ranging from economics to religion to job seeking to regulations, Resource of the Week always delivers something of value.

Visit to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter, capture the RSS feeds and search the database.


On the Ticker: Use DocuTicker for Full-Text Resources


There's a wealth of full-text reports put out by government agencies, NGOs, charities and other public interest organisations. DocuTicker's editors find and post them, putting them at your fingertips.Latest additions:

  • Follow the Leader: Peer Effects in Mutual Fund Portfolio Decisions

  • World Bank: The Year in Review 2006

    Subscribe to the weekly ResourceShelf newsletter for highlights, capture the DocuTicker RSS feed, or visit daily to learn about the latest full-text resources <>.

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    [The above jobs are paid listings]

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    Now Weekly -- The Jinfo Update with Info Jobs

    The latest jobs in information now come to you weekly, with the Jinfo Update, while the monthly Jinfo Newsletter provides tips and a CV makeover to help you put your best foot forward.

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     Tips Article

    Plain text | PDF | Contents

    "Holiday Express: Taking the Mobile Web on Holiday"

    By Gary Price

    Gary PriceHoliday travelling is stressful enough with the shopping, visiting relatives and finding someone to water your plants while you're away. The added hassle of juggling travel plans, itineraries and traffic maps can be downright traumatic.

    Blessed is the mobile device, which can make organising your holiday plans less distressing, whether you're visiting the in-laws for the New Year or travelling for business. Having timetable info and check-in capabilities at your fingertips wherever you go, can make the journey that much easier.

    Travel-related information on the mobile web is booming, as are all types of online research for such devices as BlackBerries, Treos and mobile phones. If you're not using the mobile web for some kind of research yet, it's likely that in the next 12 months you will be.

    While the mobile web is burgeoning with information, below is a small representation of what's out there for those with a mobile-web browser, excluding services based on SMS (Short Message Service aka text messaging). Although brief, this list will still help you keep all your travel-related information at hand.

    Planning your trip

    One major area of growth on the mobile web is m-commerce or mobile commerce, allowing people to make purchases via their mobile devices. That's already available from companies like and Fandango (for movie tickets) that allow the user to enter a credit card and buy what they need. While most airlines and travel sites don't allow you to buy tickets (although in America, Amtrak does allow passengers to make train travel reservations online), many do offer timetable info, check-in capabilities and airport information.

    Many airlines also offer tracking information on the mobile web. Some even offer notification services to alert you, family, friends, whomever, to delays, cancellations and other information.

    Around town

    As the mobile web grows in size, more and more newspapers are making all or some of their content available on the mobile web. Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post already have mobile sites. They can be very useful, not only for local news but also for getting info about events and happenings around town.


    Need help planning your route around a city using public transportation? This is one area that is likely to keep growing.

    • TeleNav <> offers a subscription service for many mobile devices so they can receive GPS services.

    • i-Metro> download: <>) is an amazing tool. It offers public transport journey planners for many cities around the world. It's available on the mobile web or can be downloaded for offline use.

    • Transport for London <> is a UK service that lets Londoners and their visitors plan their journeys on the Tube and rail.

    • Another type of service we will also see grow is real-time transport information like what's available from NextBus <>. Only a few cities are available but expect more from this and other services in the future. Here, GPS devices are placed on buses and trains, and you can learn precisely when the next bus or train will be at a specific location.

    • <> now has a mobile site and in New York City you can even view live traffic cameras: NY City Traffic Cameras <>.


    If you're not sure if you should pack your mac or shorts while you're away, you can check the following for weather reports on the road.

    Phoning home

    So you forgot an important file on your office computer, but you're on the road. Soonr <> is a free service that offers remote access to your desktop via most mobile devices and phones and allows you to access some or all (you decide) of the files located on it and run programs such as Skype. Of course, your remote computer needs to be left on to guarantee communication.

    While Soonr and these other services are free (for the moment), accessing the mobile web when travelling is not. Many of these and other services are data-intensive. Be aware of how much data you can access on your plan. If your wallet goes into shock with a massive bill, you won't be able to afford to travel.

    And, after all, who wants to miss the in-laws at Christmas?

    Gary Price is the founder and chief editor and compiler of ResourceShelf <>. This daily electronic newsletter is where he and the ResourceShelf team post news and other new resources of interest to the online researcher. He is also the founder of, and a contributor to, DocuTicker <>, another daily update with direct links to a variety of new reports from government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, universities and other groups. Gary Price is also a librarian and the Director of Online Information Resources at

    Destination info and more

    Of course, all of the popular search tools have mobile services that can help you access information just as you would on the regular web.

    Most will even automatically convert pages that are not 'mobile friendly' into pages that are easier to read and download faster, sometimes called transcoders. Some work better than others. You can also go directly to transcoders yourself. Two we like are:

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    Plain text | PDF | Contents


    By Monique Cuvelier

    Monique CuvelierAdvice abounds on how to build better websites, but it's not always easy to access nor is it always dependable. Many experts attempt to instruct without any knowledge of how to do so. And the time and expense of classroom time to master .NET or CSS can simply be out of the question.

    An initiative called W3Schools <> aims to help. It's a comprehensive resource put together by a Norwegian company called Refsnes Data for developers, coders and designers who want to learn new technologies or brush up on their skills. Best of all, it's free and always will be (or so the developers say).

    Its growing collection of online tutorials, ranging from basic to sophisticated, offer users step-by-step help. Subject areas include HTML, XML, browser scripting, server scripting, .NET, multimedia and web building and touch on such technologies as SMIL, Semantic, PHP, SOAP and more.

    Each multi-page tutorial is far from flashy or glamorous. Images are limited to a few stock clipart graphics, and any fancy functionality is limited to what you'll learn to create yourself in tutorials. Functionality is so straightforward you might wonder if you've missed something, but everything is there, living up to its motto: Ockham's razor, 'Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything'. W3Schools offers bare-bones material that does one thing only: shows you how to learn web technologies.

    But what it does, it does well. Basic information (e.g. 'The WWW is a network of computers all over the world. The WWW is most often called the Web') is clear for beginners, yet compact and easy to scan for more advanced users.

    I sped through Web Primer <>, an area in which I feel confident, in about 15 minutes, picking up a few helpful explanations. I skimmed the details about what HTML and CSS were, but found little nuggets that helped me understand areas that have always befuddled me such as XML ('XML is not a replacement for HTML. XML is used to describe and transport data, while HTML is used to display data').

    This and all tutorials have clever little exercises that let you try your new-found skills, and many subject areas have jumping-off points to learn more about related technologies. In Web Primer, I made a detour to delve a little deeper into XML <>, where I intend to spend a couple of hours learning more about what it is and how to use it.

    Once you've finished the lessons, you can see how much you've picked up in multiple-choice quizzes. You can also see examples of languages and scripts or look at tip sheets, called References, for HTML colour names, PHP 5.1, ASCII characters and more. The forums let you discuss a topic with other learners. W3Schools also offers certification in HTML, XML and ASP, where you study for free but pay a small fee for the certification exam, $59 for HTML and ASP. XML certification is provided separately through Altova.

    W3Schools has been quietly teaching developers, designers and beginners how to improve their skills for some time, but is quickly earning a well-deserved reputation for being one of the best tutorial resources. Simple, fast and effective. Ockham would be proud.

    Monique Cuvelier is Editor of the FreePint Newsletter. She created and was editor of a book-review publication and has written book and product reviews for many magazines and newspapers. She authored a chapter (the letter H) on an encyclopaedia of computing and technology.

    Related FreePint links:

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     Feature Article

    Plain text | PDF | Contents

    "Google Answers is Dead! Long Live Google Answers!"

    By David Sarokin

    David SarokinGoogle Answers is officially gone. So (my non-disclosure agreement notwithstanding) this seems a good opportunity to reflect on a few questions, such as:

    • What the ^$#@*&% happened?

    • How did Yahoo! Answers prosper so mightily, while GA withered and shrank?

    • Just what do I mean by 'Long Live Google Answers'?

    First, though, a bit of introduction. For those unfamiliar with Google Answers, it is (was!) a human-powered, question-and-answer service begun in 2002 as the brainchild of Google co-founder Larry Page. Unlike most search-engine tools, Google Answers (gasp!) charged a fee: anywhere from $2 to $200. Not everyone is convinced that a fee-based Q&A service is workable, but in the course of its brief history, several hundred thousand people were willing to pay to have their questions answered at GA.

    I'd been a Google Answers researcher since its inception. I loved it! I loved being associated with one of the most innovative companies around; loved the thrill of the chase while tracking down obscure titbits of information; loved helping people get the information they needed; loved being totally mobile -- able to work when and where I pleased; and by golly, I loved getting paid for doing research that was fun.

    But Google Answers was more than a job. GA built a great community of researchers, clients, and 'peanuts' -- those who frequented GA's pages and left comments that were witty, helpful, humorous and only occasionally troll-like.

    For a while, GA seemed to be thriving. So much so that Google actually brought it out of beta a year after start-up ... a vote of confidence that few of its experimental services ever achieve (even Gmail is still in beta). But in November 2006, Google abruptly announced that GA was closing down, and a month later, it all came to an end. Why the sudden collapse? Here are my thoughts on what went right and what went wrong.

    What went right

    GA built a very high quality, very eclectic library of information on an astounding variety of subjects. There are about 75,000 answered questions, each a well-researched, well-referenced mini-article on a specific topic. To my mind, Wikipedia is the only internet resource that surpasses GA in terms of the depth, scope and sheer 'eclecticness' of the content offered. But Wikipedia, as wonderful as it is, still has some 'trust' issues with its content ... issues that don't affect the professional content at GA.

    These are not simply find-the-right-link Q&As either; many of the answers are original research, creating new content. Nowhere else but Google Answers can one find out how many tyrannosaurs are in a gallon of gasoline <>, or find out who Castec Drive in Sacramento is named after <>. The information in these answers, and thousands of others, simply didn't exist in a consolidated form until GA researchers pulled the information together.

    The GA content is tremendously information-rich. From my own experience as a researcher, I've noticed more and more GA answers showing up in my routine searches. Try a Google search on 'top selling private airplanes', and a GA answer is right near the top of the list <>. Not because Google is favouring its own content, but because an answer at GA provides the best source of information for this particular query.

    GA also built a cadre of several hundred top-notch internet researchers, all of them experts in online searching, and a number of whom had considerable expertise to offer on particular topics, whether as scientists, legal or medical experts, professional chefs, computer programmers, poets, law enforcement experts or a wide variety of other walks of life. The group of researchers gave GA its impressive scope, with an ability to answer questions ranging from advice to the lovelorn, < > to dealing with female vampires, <> to radiation releases from burning coal <>.

    Google Answers also seemed perfectly viable as a business model. Though the details of the site's operations and finances are known only to a few Google insiders, it was clear that GA involved only a minor investment of people power to keep the site going and provided a small-but-steady source of revenue from both the fees paid for answers (of which, Google earned 25 per cent; the rest went to the researchers), and from the advertising revenue generated by site visits.

    What went wrong

    So we're back to the main question at hand: What the ^$#@*&% happened?

    The only credible answer I can offer is: Who knows? Google's official announcement <> didn't really say much about why they were shutting down, nor did they offer any particular insights to the researchers.

    But to me, the shut-down smacks of 'new executive syndrome' ... the shake-up that occurs when a new, fairly senior person comes on board, bent on reviewing and reorienting priorities. So, even though GA is working fine, and even though it's no longer a beta-level trial run, and even though it's a Larry Page brainchild, someone decided it was simply time for GA to go!

    Some observers have speculated that it was a matter of traffic and income. Google has very rapidly become a company accustomed to dealing with 'billions' as its unit of operation -- whether dollars, bytes, searches, internet users, whatever ... if something doesn't rise to the billion-level, it tends to fall off the radar screen. Perhaps such was the case with Google Answers, with its modest database of only a few hundred thousand questions.

    Still, the overall operational level of the service was clear from the outset, and must have been considered when GA went through its internal company review prior to emerging from beta. So why the change of heart? Again, it seems like a new boss at work.

    Building the base

    But as long as we're on the topic of overall traffic, another question that pops up is: Why was Google so reluctant to promote Google Answers?

    Sure, Google relies on buzz rather than advertising. That's how Google itself grew to dominate online searching, and that's become part of their corporate culture. Google, a company built on advertising revenue, doesn't do much advertising itself. But still, the company's choices regarding their GA brainchild seemed intent on keeping it hidden in the darkest corner of the internet. There was no link to GA on the main Google search page -- which currently features Images, Video, News, Maps and 'More' -- and after a while GA was even dropped from the More list.

    For a brief experimental moment, GA *was* listed on the main page, and question volume soared. Researchers found themselves with the rare luxury of being able to pick and choose the juiciest questions to work on from an ample supply. But the listing was short-lived, and GA's 15 minutes in the spotlight quickly vanished.

    For a long time, GA's content was not even indexed by Google's own bot, and did not show up in search results. This was eventually rectified -- I like to think because Google recognised the high quality of information that was being created -- but more time was needed to continue to build up the community of searchers who stumbled across GA via a link from a search-results page.

    Yahoo! Answers vs. Google Answers: free vs. fee

    So, here I am, bemoaning the demise of Google Answers, and you FreePint readers (if you've read this far) are sitting there thinking, 'What's this guy whining about??? Look how successful Yahoo! Answers has become. Why couldn't Google do that?'

    Well ...<<ahem>> ... <<harrrumph>> ... the only real similarity between GA and YA is in the names. Otherwise, the two services are very different in concept and content. The difference has been noted in cartoons <>, a video <>, and (warning: plug for me coming up) an interview <>.

    A major difference, of course, is that Yahoo! Answers is a free service, while Google Answers charged a fee. To some, this automatically doomed GA from the start. But my own feeling is that there is plenty of room on the internet for both types of services to thrive. People pay for 'free' things all the time. runs a robust business, even though books can be had for free from any library. Drinking water sells for $2 a bottle, even though you can simply turn on the tap and have it for free. People will always be stopping at Starbucks for a high-priced cup of coffee, despite knowing they can brew it up themselves for next to nothing.

    A whole host of factors -- convenience, quality, service, reputation, credibility -- come into play regarding the whole fee-vs.-free issue. But there's no reason to suppose that a fee-based research service couldn't make a go of it.

    Still, there's no denying that Yahoo! has a huge success on its hands, traffic-wise, with its Answers program, while Google's service always struggled to make itself known.

    Google made a mistake

    It all comes back to marketing.

    I believe the market for Answer-style services is huge. There are about a billion internet users, and sooner or later, almost all of them will be in dire need of information, and willing to pay a modest fee to have a question answered. It may only be once every five years for any given person, but still, that means many millions of paid questions and answers per year.

    But when that once-in-five-years moment arrives -- when you're offered a great business deal, but you're wondering just how legitimate the company is -- you have to know where to turn to for an answer.

    And that was the problem with Google Answers. People ready and willing to pay for reliable information simply didn't know where to turn to obtain it. Everyone knew how to 'Google', but hardly anyone knew how to 'Google Answers'. And for some inexplicable reason, Google made it increasingly more difficult to find GA. The service seemed doomed by its own invisibility.

    Yahoo! has overcome that problem by promoting the bejeebers out of Yahoo! Answers, starting with large banner ads on the Yahoo! homepage, and moving from there to 'celebrity questions' from the likes of Al Gore and Bono.

    Ahhh ... if only Google had seen fit to give GA a simple link on the main page. What a difference it could have made.

    Long live Google answers

    Which leaves me with my hope: Long Live Google Answers! The library of GA materials is a valuable and unique resource that should certainly live on and find use for many years to come. Google's corporate mission is to '... organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful ...' I expect, then, that the GA content will be around for a long time to come, even if the GA service is no more.

    But don't despair about the end of GA (as if!). Alternatives exist, for those moments when you just have to have a high-quality answer, and you're even willing to shell out a few bucks for it.

    XooxleAnswers (say 'zooks-il') is a new service at <> that was started up by one of Google Answers' most prolific researchers: me! I even have an Annex of sorts, at <> where you can learn more about the service. Some other ex-GA researchers have launched similar efforts, and I've begun compiling a list of links to their services at <>.

    Many of the ex-researchers (and a few customers) hang out at the GA Alumni Association <> and at Web-Owls <> if you'd care to drop by for a chat.

    And if 2007 seems too sad a prospect to you without Google Answers, you can still have a daily drip at 365-Days-of-Google-Answers <>.

    David Sarokin is the Researcher Formerly Known as Pafalafa-ga. His new service is called XooxleAnswers <>. He can be reached at david at xooxleanswers dot com.

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    A look back at what FreePint covered at this time in previous years:

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    • Digital Music

    • Finding People in the Digital Age

    • Selecting and Working with a Subscription Agent

    • Linking Real-World Local Communities With Online Communities

    • Myth of the Paperless Office

    • RAST Web V & D software

    If you have a suggestion for an article topic, or would like to write for FreePint, then please contact FreePint's Editor Monique Cuvelier, <> or read the notes for authors at <>

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    Contributors to this issue:

    Monique Cuvelier (Editor, FreePint), Tim Houghton, Gary Price (Editor, ResourceShelf), David Sarokin, Robin Neidorf (General Manager, FreePint), Pam Foster (Editor, VIP), Shirl Kennedy (Senior Editor, ResourceShelf and DocuTicker), William Hann (Managing Editor, FreePint), Penny Hann (Production Editor, FreePint), Plain Text <> (proofreading).


    CMS Cameron McKenna, NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, Goldsmiths College, TFPL, Instant Library Recruitment, Glen Recruitment, Sue Hill Recruitment, City Professionals, Factiva, VIP, ResourceShelf, Researcha, DocuTicker, DigBig, Jinfo.

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