Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Web Secret 542: AskWonder

Many years ago, my brother founded and was the CEO of a company called FIND.

This was pre-Internet.

Companies paid FIND a yearly retainer in exchange for the ability to ask questions - any question under the sun.

Of course most of the questions were business oriented:
  • What is the market for bubble gum in Argentina?
  • How does the Palomar Observatory clean its telescope?
  • What is the best restaurant in Singapore to entertain a business client?
In 2018, the majority of these questions could be answered in seconds, if not minutes, by simply typing a query into Google. Or even asking Alexa.

But for most of FIND's existence, these questions were answered by looking up information in books, staring at a microfiche on a scanner, or calling people on the phone.

I first worked for FIND as a 16 year old intern. My days were spent traveling to libraries around Manhattan with a heavy bag of nickels, finding reference materials, and then making photocopies of articles in books, for hours at a time. It was extremely tedious.

Later, as a 21 year old, I researched the answers to questions, poring through encyclopedias, calling subject experts around the world, and sending interns on missions to dig up information.

This hands on education requiring me to profoundly understand the primary sources behind information has made me the ace researcher that I am today. I can literally fly through the web to locate the answers to questions. I worry about the young people who don't viscerally understand where information comes from and are thus more likely to be fooled by fake news and other forms of Internet disinformation.

FIND later merged with Guideline, Inc, was acquired in 2007 by Infogroup, and then merged with Opinion Research Corporation, eventually becoming defunct.

Today a new company has taken up up the mantle left by FIND. promises to answer any question in 24 hours or less. They use the Internet, algorithms and thousands of researchers scattered around the globe to provide their services.

Good ideas get reinvented.

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