I hate to admit it, but I may have completely missed the next big thing in search.
Yahoo! Answers is the convergence of some fairly long toothed online concepts. It combines the community involvement of a wiki or forum with the searchability of an engine, and the organized hierarchy of a directory. None of these things are new, which is maybe why I didn’t think anything of it at first. But let’s face it, sometimes you don’t need to be new to take off virally on the net, you just have to put a new spin on old functionality, and it seems that Yahoo! just may have done it. We like real one-on-one interactions online. We like other people’s opinions. Hundreds of years of social interaction have hardwired that into us. And Yahoo capitalizes on it. Post a question, and get other users to answer it. Or search through the existing questions to see if yours has already been posted. It connects people with people in a most efficient way. And of course, it gives Yahoo! another opportunity to monetize traffic that is growing significantly.
There’s something simple but compelling about the virtual communities that immediately form around topics on something like Yahoo! Answers. The challenge with communities is that there needs to be critical mass, and the reassurance of a number of people having the same opinion. If you post an question and get one answer, you wonder about its reliability. If you get the same answer from 10 people (or, in the case of Answers, one answer that 10 people vote for) you have more faith in it. Yahoo! can bring critical mass and the safety of numbers (the wisdom of crowds) to its online community.
One thing that should be noted. Yahoo! Answers has taken off and announced the posting of their 10 millionth question in May. The service has blown by Google Answers, as shown by this chart courtesy of Hitwise and posted on Searchenginewatch (thanks Danny).
So..what did Yahoo! tap into, that Google didn’t? The interesting thing about this is that it speaks to the difference in culture between the two organizations. Yahoo created a community and enabled the wisdom of the masses. Google, typically, came out with an approach that said “we know best” and asked you to post your questions to be answered by Google researchers. One resonated with the public, and one didn’t.