June 19, 2004

The Fact Finders

19icon_ld_cover.jpg The Age has a wonderful article on "Ask Expert" services and the fact finders on the phones, who will answer almost any question you've got.

"It's a bizarre job," says Craig Dumas, who has had some unusual gigs. "I used to be a professional actor," he adds, but he now answers questions for Vodafone customers who call the company's information and concierge line 123.

Some calls to the centre are more memorable than most, such as:

-- A couple of German tourists landed in Sydney and wanted to know how long it would take to walk to Alice Springs," he says. After some explaining he provided them with airline details.

-- We get some late-night calls, too ... I know where every single brothel in Australia is. The only thing we can't do is give them a rating system!"

-- One caller wanted to know what kind of underwear Queen Victoria wore, says Dumas. "I am indebted to trivia nights. These questions are paying my mortgage."

-- Am I gay if I had sex with another bloke while I was intoxicated?'

-- Will I drown when the air humidity reaches 100 per cent?

Of course, there are some questions that may never be satisfactorily answered: the meaning of life, for example, or the persistence of flared jeans."

Ask Expert services are popping up for cell phones ( I've opened a special section to track them down on Textually.org). Such as MojoKnows, a service which offers to answermobile customers on any network. Tap out a question on SMS, and send it on.

According to The Age, Since September, MojoKnows has answered about 1900 questions, 26 per cent from Australia.

In order to answer most questions, MojoKnows staff turn mainly to the internet and to a selection of commercial databases. "Our IT team developed a software system that allows everybody to see incoming questions straight away. Our staff are not necessarily librarians, we expect them to have knowledge to extract the correct information from the web".

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