When it does battle on the Web, Google rarely loses. Last year’s closure of Google Answers, however, marked a rare setback for the search giant. An even bigger shock is that Yahoo! succeeded where Google failed. Yahoo! Answers—a site where anyone can post a question in plain English, including queries that can’t be answered by a traditional search engine—now draws 120 million users worldwide, according to Yahoo!’s internal stats. The site has compiled 400 million answers, all searchable in its archives. According to the Web tracking company Hitwise, Yahoo! Answers is the second-most-visited education/reference site on the Internet after Wikipedia.
The blockbuster success of Yahoo! Answers is all the more surprising once you spend a few days using the site. While Answers is a valuable window into how people look for information online, it looks like a complete disaster as a traditional reference tool. It encourages bad research habits, rewards people who post things that aren’t true, and frequently labels factual errors as correct information. It’s every middle-school teacher’s worst nightmare about the Web.