Question-answering: AQA vs 118 118

As you may know, AQA’s “Any Question Answered” service has been available for a while now. You text a question to 63336 and they text you back with the answer for £1.

Recently, I noticed that 118 118 (a phone directory service) have muscled in on this market and begun offering a competing service, called 118 “Ask Us Anything”, also £1. This left me wondering how to choose between these two seemingly identical services.

So I set them some challenges.

Challenge number one: why you?

The obvious way to find out which service rules supreme is to ask. After all, they’re there to answer questions, aren’t they?

So, to AQA I texed:

“Now that 118 118 is offering the same service as AQA, why should I use your service instead of theirs?”

And to 118 I texted:

“Why should I use 118 118 instead of AQA’s identical question answering service?”

Then I started two stopwatches and waited for the responses.

First response came from 118, after 2 minutes and 3 seconds. It said:

“We use a mix of brainpower, a hint of ingenuity then we mix it with the internet, this makes a delicious explosion of unmatched responses everytime!”

Second response came from AQA, after 6 minutes 41 seconds. It said:

“AQA: The 118118 service is inferior to that of AQA. Try it and see, AQA is confident you will see that the AQA service is the original and best.”

It’s abundantly clear that AQA’s answer is far superior to 118’s. While 118 has resorted to trying to be wacky, AQA’s answer is matter-of-fact and ever so slightly bitchy. 118 doesn’t even mention the competition, and merely states that they provide good answers (I think that’s what they were trying to say, anyway). AQA not only state that the competition are inferior, they also encourage you to try it (suggesting they really believe they’re better), as well as stating that they’re the “original and best”. Not bad.

I do think an ideal answer would have included some hard facts to back up any claim to superiority, but those might be hard to come by, so encouragement to try the competing service yourself to see how rubbish it is will suffice.

Winner: AQA.

Challenge number two: the trick question

I receive maddeningly inaccurate forwarded emails full of “facts” all the time. Since I’m interested in etymology, it drives me bonkers when people make up acronyms and pretend that that’s where words came from. Recently I received an email claiming that the word “golf” came from “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden”. A quick trip to the OED confirmed my suspicion that this was tripe.

Knowing that said tripe is freely dispensed on the internet, and that both services use the internet heavily to find answers, I tried to confuse our poor texters by sending them this:

“What acronym does the word “golf” come from?”

And clicked GO on my stopwatches.

First to reply in a dizzying 46 seconds was AQA, who said:

“AQA: ‘Golf’ is not an acronym, but the word is believed to have come from the Germanic word for club, although it’s thought that golf is a Scottish invention.”

Then, after 5 minutes 39 seconds, 118’s answer came through:

“It is often claimed that the word golf originated as an acronym for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden”, but this is an urban legend. Thank you.”

Now, these are both technically correct, so I don’t entirely know who to choose as the winner in this round. Both disabused me of my belief that “golf” came from an acronym, but AQA didn’t tell me what the mythological acronym actually is and 118 didn’t tell me where the word really comes from. Which answer is the more useful would depend on what I’d been looking for – the acronym I’d once heard or the real etymology of the word. Since I had neither of these goals in mind, and since the ideal answer would be a combination of the two, I’m calling this one a draw.

Winner: both.

Challenge number three: creativity

For the final challenge, I wanted to test the texers’ imaginations. So I sent them something that’s been puzzling me for a while, and can only be answered interestingly with a bit of creativity:

“What’s on the back of an email?”

First to reply, again, was AQA in 2 minutes and 20 seconds. They said:

“AQA: There is nothing on the back of an e-mail. They’re made out of 1s and 0s, which only have 1 side. If they did, they’d have a big pink smiley moon on.”

And 4 minutes and 42 seconds after sending, 118 replied with:

“No charge. Sorry, the 118118 team is having difficulty understanding your request, to help us more please check your spelling. Thank for you texting 118118.”

AQA wins hands-down. Not only did 118 fail to understand my daft question, they also insulted my impeccable spelling. And AQA, while stating that 1s and 0s only have one side (which is a bit questionable if you had, for instance, a 3D model of one), used some lovely creativity in the phrase “a big pink smiley moon”, which is exactly what I was going for.

Winner: AQA.

The verdict

I think it’s fairly clear who won. AQA were victorious in two rounds out of three, and drew on the other. They also replied first in two out of three cases, and had a far superior website, as well as more interesting answers.

Not only this, but when I sent my free trial text from the AQA site, they invited me to join the AQA club, which is free and allows me to find all the answers they’ve sent me online. And if I send five texts (which I now have), I get a free text every day for a week on a subject of my choosing. That’s brilliant, I’m impressed. Sending a trial text from the 118 site just got me one line of copy about texting 118 118 from now on.

So, it appears Douglas Adams was wrong. The answer to the great question isn’t 42. It’s 63336, brought to you by the pink smiley moon folks at AQA.

6 thoughts on “Question-answering: AQA vs 118 118

  1. Siany says:

    Great post! I didn’t really think a service could be as bad as 118118 until today. I’m still shocked and find their whole business quite laughable now.

    Thanks for your comments on Dollymix! I hope you’re enjoying the rest of the blog!

    Dollymix Guest Editor

  2. Texas says:

    I’ve used AQA too.

    They have been swift, accurate and, when asked silly questions, funny.

    The AQA book is worth a read too.

  3. Conor says:

    the “No charge” element of the 118118 service when they don’t know appears to have been dropped, as I was charged for asking a stupid question.
    All I got was “No information available, please check your spelling…”

    AQA’s sense of fun definitely make it a winner in my opinion.

  4. what? says:

    “What acronym does the word “golf” come from?”

    “AQA: ‘Golf’ is not an acronym, but the word is believed to have come from the Germanic word for club, although it’s thought that golf is a Scottish invention.”

    “It is often claimed that the word golf originated as an acronym for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden”, but this is an urban legend. Thank you.”

    >> I think 118 is far more better here since you’re asking for an acronym and not the origin..

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