Look Out Wikipedia, Here Comes Yahoo Answers! Part 1

In May, Barry Schwartz wrote about Yahoo Answers hitting the 10 million answers posted mark, an impressive accomplishment particularly given the low interest and poor take-up answer search has traditionally had in the U.S. But some new stats add fuel to the idea Yahoo Answers isn’t only bucking the trend but perhaps becoming a social interacting phenomenon like YouTube or MySpace.com.

Of course, Yahoo already has some social successes of its own: the photo-sharing site Flickr and the bookmark-sharing service del.icio.us. But both services came through acquisitions rather than internal Yahoo mojo kicking in. Yahoo Groups is a large, thriving service, but even that was an acquisition.

In contrast, Yahoo MyWeb was Yahoo’s first big, internally built push to tap into social networking and especially to apply it to search. To date, MyWeb has hardly seemed a social phenomenon, though my article “Yahoo MyWeb Gets New Look, Easier Browsing & Viewing Features” does explain how Yahoo says the popularity is better than you might see from afar. Plus, the new changes to make that service more accessible may help it grow.

Still, MyWeb hasn’t felt as if a community rapidly swelled underneath the service. In contrast, Yahoo Answers gives exactly that impression. After the 10 million answers announcement caught my attention, Yahoo trotted it out again as a sign of success at the company’s Analyst Day I attended in May, saying growth was strong.

I wondered what a third party had to say about Yahoo Answers’ popularity. So, I shot a quick email to Bill Tancer at Hitwise during the event. He sent back some metrics that made everyone at Yahoo smile when I shared them in a separate meeting after the event. Tancer has since updated those figures for me, as I’ve delayed this write-up. Let’s dive into them.

Impressive Growth

Here’s the growth since Yahoo Answers launched in December, compared with the far more established Google Answers service:

In terms of sheer numbers, comparing Yahoo Answers to something like YouTube is laughable. As of June 3, Yahoo Answers attracted only 0.044 percent of the Internet audience. But in terms of growth, the line’s impressive. People are definitely taking notice of the service and jumping in.

How about another third party? Here are some comScore figures:


See the two lines? “Visitors” means the millions of U.S. surfers who visited the service at least once in a given month. It’s going up, up, up. In contrast to Hitwise, the other line suggests a good chunk of U.S. surfers is making use of the service. That line shows the percentage of all U.S. home, work, and college Internet surfers who went to the service at least once in a month. If I’ve done the math right (I double-checked several times), in April this was a huge chunk for a new service: 4 percent. Please note the chart says percentage of all Web visits. That’s visitors.

Bear in mind the comScore figures don’t reflect usage. A single person visiting Yahoo Answers once in a month counts the same as someone who visits daily. Yahoo’s heavily promoting Yahoo Answers, so getting those initial clicks isn’t surprising. Still, it’s another sign there’s something to watch here.

The Hitwise stats show how Yahoo Answers is growing massively compared to Google Answers. But here’s another look against peers. Hitwise has a category called Education – Reference, headed by the popular Wikipedia site. Stats for the week ending May 13, 2006:


Notice Yahoo Answers, only a few months old, is number three. Even more remarkable is it comes above Answers.com, which provides Google’s definition links. Those likely drive lots of traffic to Answers.com but apparently not more than Yahoo Answers now generates.

This column’s title admittedly is hype. Yahoo Answers has a healthy 3 percent share, but Wikipedia remains well above at almost 17 percent of Web visits to sites in this category.

In addition, the Wikipedia stats almost certainly don’t include the many sites that are powered by Wikipedia but use their own domains. Similarly, Answers.com might have related domains not in this rollup. Tancer will likely explore this more. He loves to get his teeth into stats like this, so watch his blog.

Shoot-‘Em-Up Answering Community

Aside from traffic, I think the more interesting comparison between Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia is the different approaches. Wikipedia aims to have everyone comprehensively build a corpus of knowledge in an organized fashion. Yes, it’s disorganized in the sense anyone can change things. But it’s organized in that each topic gets a single page containing the contributions.

Yahoo Answers deals with one-off question answering. A corpus of knowledge is growing there, one that’s organized into categories, but all answers on a given topic aren’t neatly placed on the same page.

That’s not necessarily a disadvantage. It may be part of the reason Yahoo Answers is pulling in an audience that might never want to contribute to Wikipedia. If it were a computer game, Wikipedia would be a strategy game in which you take a long view to win a campaign or goal. Yahoo Answers is a first-person shoot-’em-up. Questions appear, and as soon as one is shot down with an answer, it’s on to the next one.

That’s addictive. I know firsthand. After spending some time on Yahoo Answers, I found myself oddly compelled to “play” the game. But playing’s hard in that many of the open questions I found of interest seemed to have already been answered. The community’s not only growing, it’s fast!

Need more proof of addiction? Check out the AnswerholicsAnonymous site, where Yahoo Answers junkies talk about solving their addiction. Or look at the relatively new leaderboard. I found it fascinating to read the FAQ of June Furrows, who until recently had answered more than anyone else and reached top status: “Level 7”. But she’s not alone — there’s a page full of sevens and plenty of other high rankers.

Next time: using Yahoo Answers.

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

This column was adopted from ClickZ’s SearchEngineWatch.com. A longer, more detailed version is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

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