Many of you have probably already seen answers.yahoo.com, Yahoo!'s new portal for "crowdsourcing" all your burning questions. It seems like a great idea, right? Anybody can ask any question, and then anyone in the world who sees the question and knows the answer can reply. It may well be a great idea, but Yahoo!'s implementation of that idea is, so far, fatally flawed.
The obvious initial problem with a premise like this is that there will always be folks out there trying to post offensive, illegal, and otherwise inappropriate questions. On any given day, you can easily find many questions on Yahoo asking things like "Which religion is right?," "How do I rip DVDs or jailbreak my iPhone?" or "Why can't you liberals accept that Obama is a terrorist/racist/evil demon/fictional hologram?"
Inappropriate questions are inevitable, so the real question is how to handle problems like this. You've probably figured that the best idea would be for Yahoo to use a specific group of moderators to present clear guidelines and enforce them fairly - but apparently Yahoo doesn't have the resources to do that. So what alternative is there for management of crowdsourced content? Crowdsource it!
That's right, pretty much anybody can report anything as offensive, and many of Yahoo!'s removals are based simply on the quantity of complaints rather than their validity. There are many complaints from the site from people who wrote something that was legitimately non-offensive (sometimes even something as simple as "How do you reset an iPhone?") and had it removed for alleged "offensiveness." In fact, I personally posted a response to a racist question that respectfully objected to the original question, and Yahoo! removed MY post, insisting that I was being offensive. I appealed this decision, pointing out that I had not violated the terms of service as they alleged, and they simply upheld the removal of my answer without making any effort to explain their actions.
Yahoo! doesn't provide any experts or other people to help with answering questions - so the people who ask and answer questions are providing Yahoo! with the content that makes their site popular, for free. When Yahoo! censors posts illogically while defending posts that are racist, this is very disrespectful to the very people who do all the work for them.
So Yahoo! puts in place a points system, hoping to clean up the chaos. If you respond to a question, you get two points, and if the person who asked the question chooses your answer as the "favorite," you get ten points. However, if anything, the points system has only made things worse. Often, an answer is chosen as a "favorite" when it was obviously not the best answer given, either because the person who asked the question is just lazy or confused, or because people are "shilling" for their friends.
Yahoo! also charges you five points if you want to ask a question, which once again punishes people who provide them with free original content. And yet somehow charging for questions has failed to prevent the Yahoo! Answers board to be flooded with inappropriate questions like the ones mentioned above, as well as countless duplicate questions.
Yahoo! seems to have bit off more than they can chew with the creation of their Answers portal. With a growing number of alternatives like AnswerBag.com, Yahoo! needs to come up with a regulatory system that makes things much better, instead of the current system that makes things much worse. Until then, the "Y! Answers" logo should really be replaced with one that says, "WHY, Answers??"
I have another issue with Yahoo Answers. The information is often wrong, dangerously wrong. Anyone can post an answer, no matter how poorly informed it is. Google for a medical problem and Yahoo Answers thread come up near the top of the results. Therein you'll see non-medical persons posting absurdities like you should eat more salt if you have high blood pressure, or freckles are a sure sign of cancer to come. Good grief!
Non-dangerous but still alarmingly wrong answers appear for many tech topics. Semi dangerous answers run amok for pet care and pet health issues.
The whole mess seems designed to make money/web traffic and not really provide good info. It sure ain't the Wikipedia!
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview
Yes, that is definitely a good point, especially since Yahoo! would probably give at least two points to the person who posted "eat more salt," while they would threaten to ban a person who posted "Your advice is absolutely crazy."
For that matter, just the fact that Yahoo! Answers pages pollute Google search results is also getting pretty annoying. I think it might be time to add " -site:yahoo.com" to the end of my future Google search strings.
-------------------- Chief iPod Correspondent
Senior Time Waster
Captain of the Planet Express
Assistant Jedi Librarian
Excellent points. I talk about all of these shortcomings of the Yahoo! Answers service (and how they can be abused) in the preface of my book "Snarky Responses to Yahoo! Answers."
While my book is classified under comedy, I definitely feel the frustration and limitations of Yahoo! Answers. The good news is that you can exploit the system for points and fame if you can be clever enough about it.