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Sunday, September 3, 2006

Michael and Yahoo Answers

When I recently tried out Yahoo’s free Q&A service, Yahoo Answers, Michael provided one of the best answers. I’ve asked Michael – a very active YA member at over 200 answers – about the pros and cons of Yahoo’s platform and community.


Michael, what do you do in life, where are you from, and how old are you?

I am a 25-yr old aerospace engineer doing rocket licensing and safety. Born and raised in the Bronx, NYC (I guess it should be “’da Bronx”), but I currently live just outside of Washington, DC.

How did you first find out about Yahoo Answers?

A link from a friend’s blog – they were raving about how addicting it is.

Did you try similar services before? If so, which ones, and what do you like and dislike about other services?

No, YA was my first experience with this style of posting – though I am by no means new to forums, blogs, or other areas of online discussion.

What do you like and dislike about Yahoo Answers?

Like: If you make a good point, people seem to notice. I have had many positive responses to my answers. It’s a small amount of validation, but it feels good.
Dislike: The signal-to-noise ratio is astounding. It’s very difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Regarding high noise on YA; what is your experience with asking questions on YA yourself? Do you get good answers?

I’ve only asked three questions as of today, and it was too easy to pick the best – not because they were filled with such amazing insight as to inspire me, but simply because all the other answers were so shoddy, the one or two good answers really stood out.

Why do you answer questions? Is there any money involved?

I answer questions, mainly in the Religion section, because I am voicing a very misunderstood minority opinion. It’s my hope that by answering people’s questions directly, and making myself available by email for follow-ups, that over time my philosophical position will be less misunderstood. There is no money involved.

Would you like to tell us about this position you’re voicing?

I am an atheist, which continues to be one of the most misunderstood philosophical positions in America.

What’s your approach to a good answer?

Most of my answers follow a pattern. Summary, Supporting Details, Summary. The purpose of putting a summary statement first is to clearly state your opinion and get people interested in it. The supporting details is to explain your opinion, and this is really where you can separate the good answers from just the opinion polls. (An unsupported statement is fairly useless.) The final summary is usually an expanded restatement, targeted towards an audience that now has my supporting details in their head. It’s also important to try to guess at the education/age level of the asker and tailor your answer appropriately.

Did you make friends in the Yahoo Answers community?

Not yet, though I have had positive comments towards my answers. When voicing a minority opinion, you tend to make more enemies than friends.

About how much time do you spend on YA on a given day?

It varies based on the other work I have to do. I would say between 0 and 2.5 hours.

What was the most fun question to answer so far?

Too many to list. Answers are like children, you can’t have a favorite. (Or, at least, you can’t let anyone know your favorite). ;)

What was the most fun of your questions to get an answer to?

None. I’ve only asked three and I was fairly disappointed in the results, which is why I stopped asking.

Yahoo Answers categorizes members into different levels based on points added or subtracted per action. (E.g. it costs points to ask a question, but you receive points for answering a question.) Do you think the system is good?

Not really – it encourages responses, as opposed to answers. There’s a difference. It’s probably easier to respond to 10 questions (at a point each) than it is to put a lot of thought into a single 10-point “best answer.” Therefore, you encourage people to just give one-liner spammed responses to questions instead of actually putting in some thought. Further, truth is not determined by popularity (Wikipedia shares this problem) – if it were technically possible, you should be able to get extra points for citing a reference that backs up your claim. A large percentage of people don’t understand how to argue with anything other than bold assertion.

The higher your YA level, the more rights you have or gifts you receive. YA won’t tell what happens at level 6 or 7. Do you know what happens at these levels?


Does YA get a lot of spam, i.e. people promoting their own products or websites without asking real questions, or giving real answers?

Not a lot yet, but I have seen a steady increase. The reporting system is fairly decent though – so I don’t expect this to become a problem.

What are your favorite websites other than Yahoo Answers?

Generally personal ones such as my blog and email, as well as sites that allow me to keep in touch with my friends, such as MySpace and Facebook – the latter being far superior.


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