Yahoo Brings Questioners Together With Answers

Yahoo has launched a service that attempts to connect those with questions to a community that might have the answers.

Yahoo Answers offers 23 categories in which to ask a question not easily answered by a Web search.

“When it comes to locating facts, such as the capital of India, Web search rocks. But there are many times that keywords just don’t cut it — times when you need to ask a question to a group of humans. You know, real people,” Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo Search wrote in a blog entry.

What We Want to Know

The top unanswered question on the site when the E-Commerce Times checked was: “What legal rights do I have regarding squirrels in my rental home?” Another wondered whether the cartoon mouse Jerry, of “Tom and Jerry,” was male or female. The point is that there may be a user or users out there who can help. The information is then available to anyone who may want it in the future.

Questions can be up to 110 characters and so far only in English. Yahoo Answers offers RSS feeds on each topic.

Yahoo has set up a point system so that the more active someone is in answering questions, the more points will accrue. What do you get for the points? Bragging rights.

How Accurate is It?

At least a couple of Web search engine experts have questioned whether the point system will lead more competitive participants to answer many questions quickly without worrying about the accuracy of the answers.

“Is this a game [who can get the most points?, who can challenge for the lead?] or a real service to answer questions with accurate, current, and authoritative answers from quality sources? The bragging should come from sharing accurate info, not by accumulating points,” Gary Price of SearchEngineWatch wrote in his discussion of the site.

Google also offers an answer site, but it differs significantly. On Google, queries cost money, but are answered by a restricted group of experts. Yahoo relies more on a Wiki-type model in which the community polices itself by correcting errors it finds in others’ answers.

But, as Greg Linden points out in his blog: “People don’t know what they don’t know. Majority vote doesn’t work if people don’t have the information they need to have an informed opinion.”

Yahoo Answers is in beta and some of these issues may be ironed out before the official release. Although Yahoo is not saying, the site is also likely to sprout ads at some point.

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