Working in Jerusalem: She's got all the answers

Nirel Matsil worked for in the US; now she works for them here.

nirel matsil 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
nirel matsil 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'Every day I learn 5,000 random facts I'll probably never get to use," says Nirel Matsil. But as one of several CAs, or community assistants, at, a sister Web site of, Matsil loves every minute - and minutia - of it. Developed in Israel, is an international concern with 73 employees worldwide, 60 of whom are based in Israel. While provides a vast array of information culled from licensed material such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and all manner of reference books, WikiAnswers provides informed responses to specific questions. As a community assistant for WikiAnswers, it is Matsil's job to ensure that those answers are valid, accurate and correctly phrased and categorized. Here's how it works, Matsil explains. If you want to find out general information about turtles, for example, you can go to and type in "turtles" and avail yourself of dozens of entries that will give you reams of facts and details on the subject. But if you want to know something specific about turtles, such as what to feed a pet turtle or what kinds of turtles live on the Galapagos Islands or what is the age of the oldest living turtle, you go to and type in your question. If it is unanswered, you can type in your e-mail address and have the answer sent to you. The answers to the tens of thousands of questions that stream into the site daily are provided by a base of volunteer contributors around the globe who render their expertise on a myriad of subjects. If the question has been asked before and is already on file, the answer appears instantaneously. Other times it may take hours or even days until contributors (located in one of many time zones such as India, China, the Philippines or Australia) can research and supply the information. But as soon as it becomes available the answer will be sent, so there is no need to ask again, says the 27-year-old New York native. Fact-based answers are, well, a matter of fact. But questions that involve procedure or opinion, such as how to treat a hangover, the best way to boil an egg or why people have snakes as pets can have a wide range of answers, all of which are sent to the inquirer as the updates come in. A natural question at this point might be "Who are these volunteer responders and why are they spending their time answering strangers' queries?" Many of them are professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, owners and CEOs of companies, or people who are experts in a particular field, says Matsil. They experience "a helper's high," as she puts it, which explains why they are so keen to share their knowledge with others. For example, when a question about swords was asked, the head of a sword manufacturing company offered the answer. Now there is a "sword" category on the site. An added incentive is the Biopage, where the volunteer contributors can provide some background information about themselves. Although WikiAnswers policy does not permit self-promotion of businesses within answers, the contributors can promote their companies or services on the Biopage, says Matsil. There are more than 500 supervisors in charge of various fields, and the ever-expanding list of categories now stands at 4,978. In its three years of operation (WikiAnswers was acquired by Answers Corp. in 2006), WikiAnswers has received more than 12 million questions. Another aspect of Matsil's job is to respond to concerns regarding the content or subject matter of the questions and answers. "The Support page receives a lot of feedback, suggestions, kudos and critiques. It is a very user-friendly site," she says. "In fact, the beauty of the site is that we create it according to the users' interests." In that vein, Matsil also looks at the top 100 questions of the day to see what the hot topics are. Then "I scramble to try to research and answer them, no matter how unusual the question," she says. What are people itching to know right now? High on the Web site's current FAQ list are questions about swine flu, Mother's Day and the immensely popular reality TV show Jon and Kate Plus Eight, which follows the lives of a married couple and their eight young children - a set of sextuplets and a pair of twins - in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. To ensure that the information received is as accurate and "kosher" as possible, a special team called the vandal patrol works 24/7 to ferret out anyone who may be contributing "bad" answers. If someone sends in deliberately erroneous information or submits responses laced with vulgar or venomous rhetoric, the vandal patrol sends them a sound warning or blocks them, as well as monitoring their IP address. In many cases, says Matsil, "They succeed in turning those vandals into people who want to help." To maintain quality control, every month a set of random answers is evaluated for accuracy and legitimacy. But vandalism on the site seems to be more of an exception to the rule. IN ADDITION to the wealth of information resources that Matsil has access to every day at her workplace, there is a human dimension that she values as well. "I have never met such highly intelligent people," says Matsil. "Everyone knows so much, but they don't act that way. There is so much sharing of knowledge. I have worked for many companies before, but the people I work with here are such humble geniuses," she says. What's more, she adds, the CEO of the company, Bob Rosenschein, "walks into each person's cubicle every day and asks them how they're doing." The volunteers and the workers are a special kind of people, says Matsil. "They are obsessive," she laughs. "The work doesn't end at five or six o'clock. If I find a good question and I'm interested in the answer, I go home and look things up," she admits. "It's never the same from one day to the next; the content is always changing. One question can lead to a large get-together in the office with multiple discussions. The whole environment is so stimulating," she says. In fact, it was stimulation that was lacking at a previous job she had in the US. A graduate of Binghamton University in New York with a BSc in biology, Matsil had always been interested in science and biology and had a fascination for animals. "I wanted to be a zookeeper," she says. She worked for two years at a science museum in Queens, the New York Hall of Science. Then she got a job as a zookeeper at the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey. She worked with the reptiles, as well as raptors, such as kestrels and eagles. "It was fun," she says, "but ultimately it was not mentally stimulating enough." Finding the answer to her own internal quest, Matsil landed a job in the New York office of, where she served as office manager. After a year, she was eager to be transferred to the Israel office. "I love Israel," she says. "My mother is Israeli. And you can't find good humous in the States," quips Matsil, whose parents reside in New York. Fulfilling her dream, she came to Israel last May to work at the office in Malha's Technological Park. This job is not only stimulating but also fun, Matsil is pleased to say. Guest speakers are invited to the office to give lectures; on each employee's birthday, the human resources department presents him or her with a poem written especially for the person; and on its annual yom kef (fun day), the company takes the employees on exciting outings, such as white water rafting. "People are very happy working here," says Matsil. What else does she enjoy about her job? Just ask her.