07/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yahoo Answers: The Internet Magic 8 Ball

You're not supposed to use the Internet like a Magic 8 Ball. Google can't tell you whether you'll pass the bar exam or find happiness in Spokane. But almost from the start, the Web has been barraged with personal questions -- often highly subjective ones. Internet users want to do more than "conduct searches" as if they were military police. They want to canvass opinions, plead for sympathy, share an experience or otherwise be humored.

Fortunately, a deluxe humoring service has arrived, in the form of Yahoo Answers. In the two years since it was introduced, Yahoo Answers has become second in popularity only to Wikipedia as a reference site. Unlike search engines, it doesn't direct seekers to lists of citations, databases, entries and advertisers. Instead, the service delivers questioners to other people who simply like questions, matching inquiring minds with know-it-alls.

You can read questions and answers without joining, but if you join, you can also ask questions (which costs you points, in the ingenious economy of the service) or answer them (which earns points). Named experts don't weigh in; no one is paid; answers are composed, ad hoc, by the people and for the people. Members ascend various levels for asking and answering, and with each level comes privileges: you win credibility and a better seat at the seminar.

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