Death is weird.
That’s a way to open a passage, ha. But it IS complicated and I have always struggled with what to think of things like death, finality and closure. It’s of course a somber thing but also a celebration of what was. Something something I probably need to unpack some stuff. But don’t we all?
Anywho… This week Verizon (who owns Yahoo) announced they are killing off the 16 year old service that let anyone ask and answer any question.
Yahoo Answers wasn’t really that complex of a product. CNET described the product in pretty simple terms at its launch in 2005: “Yahoo was set to launch on Thursday a free beta service, Yahoo Answers, that will allow people to ask questions online on any topic and get answers from anyone who wants to answer them. The questions and answers will be archived and searchable.
Users also will be able to get questions and answers on their favorite topics on their My Yahoo page or any other RSS (really simple syndication) reader.”
Side note: we are ever consistent as a people and an internet.
Featured comments from that 05 article include:
“Expertbee.com already does a great job”
Wayne Thorsen Dec 8, 2005, 6:42 AM PST
“Cause their email support isn’t worth a damn…”
Eric Cartman Dec 8, 2005, 4:00 AM PST
“At lest choose a different name!”
C Net Dec 8, 2005, 4:00 AM PST
“i thought Google…”
Mgc Cnet Dec 7, 2005, 9:50 PM PST
Anyways, there was something about Yahoo Answers stuck around and it would continuously find ways to work its way back into the popular culture, perhaps most famously with this video.
In spite of Yahoo Answers slow march towards becoming a meme and ultimately housing a lot of conspiracy theories, I find something extremely endearing about the product and what it represents about us as a weird and uncomfortable species afraid to ask questions in the open. Yahoo Answers offered an outlet for millions to ask the things they couldn’t get answered by their situation, their means or their peers.
The answers aren’t often good or useful, but that record of all those questions has to mean something. And with Yahoo not archiving their system at all, I feel this weird sense of sorrow to know it’s going to be gone. Have I checked Yahoo Answers at all in the past decade? No. So why does it bother me that it’s going away?
I think it’s the fact Yahoo Answers acted as a weird internet mirror for all of us. At one point, somewhere in the past, a person needed to know “What if one day the cows fight back?”
Would I ask any of my friends or co-workers “How many calories are in soap”? Probably not. But, I don’t think it’s a bad question. My mom made me eat soap as a kid when I swore and we see all the good that did.
And it tapped into something that resonated at scale. According to the lead on the projects LinkedIn, Ofer Shaked (which… WHAT A NAME):
“Managed the build-out and launch of Yahoo Answers from inception to 70MM monthly users in the first year, Yahoo’s fastest growing application in recent history. Won the Yahoo Superstar award.”
70 million monthly users is hitting some nerve of the internet public and definitely worth celebrating with a Superstar award. Why don’t we have Shockoe Superstar awards? I nominate Rick in accounting.
So yeah, Yahoo Answers had a following and a clear impact on ol’ Mason and the world.
But I struggle with the question: Was Yahoo Answers good software?
It seemed to work and was pretty useful at a time. I know I used it when I was in middle school which was an awful idea and I fear what I thought to throw over the fence in terms of questions.
It attracted millions of people and it provided hours of entertainment in terms of youtube videos, podcast bits and stand up comedy acts.
But did it provide any real value? Especially as things popped up like Quora and Reddit that seemed to handle it’s use case with more purpose and better systems. How many people did it lead astray with false alarms, poor answers or conspiracy theories?
I don’t know if it’s good.
But I do know in this weird way I know I’ll miss it and I’m sad to see it die. Even if it was probably its time to go.
If we can build software that has that impression on people – my gut says we’re on the right track. I dunno what that is or when that will come our way, but if I was Ofer Shaken, I think I’d be proud of it.
Pour one out for Yahoo Answers. And to celebrate its life I leave you with one of my favorite questions that was asked on Yahoo Answers:
“How old do I have to be to get nunchuks?”