Taking 'Internet answers' for granted

That there is nothing unusual about either of these anecdotes is what makes them so remarkable.

First one: For weeks on my Sunday morning trip to the grocery store, I had noticed a large and growing array of ground-based solar panels - dozens of them -- just off Route 495 northbound in Westborough, Mass. Each time I've driven by I've asked myself, "What's up with that?" And each week by the time I've gotten home with the groceries I have forgotten to go online and find out.

Until last week: It took me all of 10 seconds on Google to pull up a story from the local newspaper that explained that the solar farm, which will number 3,100 panels when complete, is being built by owners of an office building looking to attract "green" tenants.

The second one: I saw that a link to a heartwarming video (doesn't matter which heartwarming video) that was on the front page of Reddit and had already accumulated more than 1,000 votes, which means the video had been watched by many times that many Redditors alone. Yet the view counter on YouTube indicated that the video had been watched only 306 times.

Why? I had noticed this same discrepancy on YouTube at least as often as I'd seen those solar panels, but never bothered to find an answer. Until this time. Another 10 seconds on Google brought me this answer from a YouTube employee via Quora:

"YouTube employs proprietary technology to prevent the artificial inflation of a video's viewcount by spam bots, malware and other means. We validate views to ensure the accuracy of the viewcount of all videos beginning with the first view. This validation process becomes publicly visible when the viewcount reaches 300. At this point, the viewcount may slow or temporarily freeze until we have time to verify that all further views are legitimate. Rest assured that the views system is working as intended, and that the viewcount will update as soon as the system has verified the legitimacy of the views."

I am now rest assured.

So how would these questions have gone pre-Internet, putting aside the fact that that they wouldn't have actually arisen pre-Internet. I suppose I would have been a subscriber to the local newspaper (I worked there for almost 20 years) and maybe the paper would have published a story about the construction just off the highway. Or perhaps I would have called the local library, as library reference desks were once a standard tool for newspaper reporters. Or maybe I would have pulled over into the breakdown lane, hopped the guardrail, and wandered around until I found someone who could tell me what was going on.

More likely I would have gotten over my curiosity.

Today answering such a question more often than not takes an Internet connection and 10 seconds. In fact, answering such questions quickly online has become so reliable that it is the rare occasion when Googling something doesn't work that is truly remarkable.

My 11-year-old children will never know what it's like to have such a mundane question occur yet not have the answer at their fingertips. They take this magic for granted.

I try my best not to.

You can always ask me anything. The address is buzz@nww.com.

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