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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yahoo Has New Answers

Yahoo launched a service called Answers on Thursday that invites people to ask questions, and then lets other visitors answer them.

This isn’t explicit search—it’s Yahoo’s attempt at tapping into a community’s collective knowledge to dig out information.

Yahoo has been taking aggressive steps to expand its base of user-generated content over the past few months, in keeping with CEO Terry Semel’s strategy of using such content to retain and drive traffic across its sites (see Yahoo Searching for Content).

Yahoo’s not alone. Most of the larger Internet companies want to offer services that are personalized and customized, giving users a reason to stay on their sites for long periods of time (see Yahoo Adds a Personal Touch).

The number of users and the duration they stay on the sites are factors that in turn can be used to draw advertisers. Yahoo obviously has taken more than a page from the success of projects that use the community to grow and expand, such as Wikipedia.

“It’s consistent with the company’s larger social media strategy,” said Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group. “In a weird sort of way, it’s a cousin of Google Base, because it’s a content acquisition tool” (see Google Expands Search All Over).

There are other services out there that essentially do the same thing, such as, but none of them have the reach of Yahoo. The Sunnyvale, California-based Internet company gets more than a 100 million unique readers a month in the United States alone.

Google also has a service with the same name. But Google Answers works differently. People can ask questions, but experts provide answers, not the community. And it isn’t free.

Yahoo’s service is in beta, which means that it is still being tested and will not run ads. Eventually, however, Yahoo expects to make money with it through online advertising, much as it does on other sites.

Killer Ops

Mr. Sterling said the service provides great opportunities for targeted advertising. For starters, it requires people to register before they start using the service. This adds to Yahoo’s huge database of information on its users, and allows it to better track their behavior. But the biggest opportunity comes when people ask others for reviews as they make purchasing decisions.

“Wouldn’t an advertiser love to get access to people as they’re making that decision?” said Mr. Sterling. “‘What’s the best laptop under $1,000?’ Boom. There’s a targeting opportunity [for an advertiser].”

Yahoo plans to integrate the content it collects on this site with its other sites, such as local, travel, and shopping—essentially any site where groups can exist. For now, the company will encourage self-policing on the community’s part on the Answers site, but based on feedback, could rope in librarians and academic experts.



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