Yahoo! Gets Answers

"How are M&M's made?" "How does one become an anime voice talent?" These were two of the many random questions posted on Yahoo!'s new Answers service within hours of its launch this week.

Yahoo! Answers--at answers.yahoo.com--is essentially a Yahoo! branded platform for Web surfers to ask, answer, and browse each other's questions. And because the search for answers relies on the minds of participating human beings--rather than computer algorithms and search terms--the system is more conducive to common language.

"Everyone is good at something," said Ofer Shaked, director of engineering at Yahoo! Search. "Answers brings all of that knowledge together and makes it easily accessible to anyone."

The look and communal sensibility of Answers closely resembles that of Flickr, the photo-sharing Web community that Yahoo! acquired earlier this year. The site is not presently monetized.

By archiving and categorizing users' questions and answers by topic, and making them searchable, users are able to tap an existing repository of the community's knowledge. Users can also track questions and answers related to specific topics with any RSS reader, including My Yahoo!.

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The integrity of Yahoo! Answers is based on a voting system intended to determine the respective reputation of members. Once an "asker" posts a question, they will receive responses via e-mail. The "asker" is then expected to rate the helpfulness of answers on a scale of one-to-five. For further refinement, users browsing the answers of others are asked to give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

Rival Google has offered a somewhat similar service for three years. Its Google Answers application requests that users post questions accompanied by the dollar amount that they're willing to pay for the answer. A group of some 500 Google-approved researchers are on call to answer submitted question within 24 hours.

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