Yahoo! Answers

Yahoo! Answers (formerly known as ‘Yahoo! Q & A’) is a community-driven question-and-answer (Q&A) site or a knowledge market launched by Yahoo! in 2005 that allows users to both submit questions to be answered and answer questions asked by other users.

The site gives members the chance to earn points as a way to encourage participation and is based on  a service developed by Naver (a popular search portal in South Korea).

‘Yahoo! Answers’ allows any question that does not violate Yahoo! Answers community guidelines. To encourage good answers, helpful participants are occasionally featured on the ‘Yahoo! Answers Blog.’ Though the service itself is free, the contents of the answers are owned by the respective users – while Yahoo! maintains a non-exclusive royalty-free worldwide right to publish the information. Chat is explicitly forbidden in the Community Guidelines, although categories like Politics and Religion & Spirituality are mostly opinion. Users may also choose to reveal their Yahoo! Messenger ID on their Answers profile page.

Questions are initially open to answers for four days. However, the asker can choose to close the question after a minimum of one hour or extend it for a period of up to eight days. To ask a question, one has to have a Yahoo! account with a positive score balance of five points or more. The points system is weighted to encourage users to answer questions and to limit spam questions. There are also levels (with point thresholds), which give more site access. Points and levels have no real world value, cannot be traded, and serve only to indicate how active a user has been on the site. A notable downside to the points/level system is that it encourages people to answer questions even when they do not have a suitable answer to give to gain points. Users also receive ten points for contributing the ‘Best Answer’ which is selected by the question’s asker or voted on by the community.

Contributors often vote for their own answer regardless of its quality or appropriateness. At the same time, many questions are posed by the asker without any real desire to gain knowledge. In addition to points awarded for activity, ‘Yahoo! Answers’ staff may also award extra points if they are impressed with a user’s contributions. Before 2012, users levels 5 and above could give an unlimited amount of questions, answers, and comments. ‘Yahoo! Answers’ established an upper limit to curb spam and unproductive answers.

A number of studies have looked at the structure of the community and the interaction between askers and responders. Studies of user typology on the site have revealed that some users answer from personal knowledge – ‘specialists’ – while others use external sources to construct answers – ‘synthesists,’ with synthesists tending to accumulate more reward points. Adamic et al looked at the ego networks of users and showed that it is possible to distinguish ‘answer people’ from ‘discussion people’ with the former found in specialist categories for factual information, such as mathematics and the latter more common in general interest categories, such as marriage and wrestling. They also show that answer length is a good predictor of ‘best answer’ choice. Kim and Oh looked at the comments given by users on choosing best answers and showed that content completeness, solution feasibility, and personal agreement/confirmation were the most significant criteria.

Researchers found that questions seeking factual information received few answers and that the knowledge on ‘Yahoo! Answers’ is not very deep. Despite the presence of experts, academics and other researchers, Yahoo! Answers’ base consists of a much more general group; hence, it has been criticized for its high quantity of dubious questions, such as ‘How is babby formed?’ or ‘How girl get pragnent? [sic],’ which sparked an Internet meme, and for the reliability, validity, and relevance of its answers. A 2008 study found that ‘Yahoo! Answers’ is suboptimal for questions requiring factual answers and that the quality decreases as the number of users increases. One journalist observed that the structure ‘Yahoo! Answers’ provides, particularly the persistence of inaccuracies, the inability to correct them, and a point structure that rewards participation more readily than accuracy all indicate that the site is oriented towards encouraging use of the site, not offering accurate answers to questions.

The number of poorly formed questions and inaccurate answers has made the site a target of ridicule. Likewise, posts on many internet forums and ‘Yahoo! Answers’ itself indicate that ‘Yahoo! Answers’ attracts a large number of trolls (people who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages). The site does not have a system that filters the correct answers from the incorrect answers. It only allows the user community to choose the best answer from a line-up of answers. Once the ‘best answer’ is chosen, there’s no way to add more answers nor to improve or challenge the best answer chosen by the question asker; there is a display of thumbs down or thumbs up for each answer, but viewers cannot vote. Also, while ‘best answers’ can be briefly commented upon, the comment is not visible by default and is hence hardly read. If the best answer chosen is wrong or contains problematic information, the only chance to give a better (or correct) answer will be the next time the same question is asked, but the older answer will still likely get higher priority in search engines. Any new answer will most probably not be seen by any original questioner.


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