Search engines such as Google and Yahoo are looking outside the box of search for future business strategies. In Yahoo’s case, one of their brightest new products is Yahoo Answers http://answers.yahoo.com, where people can post and answer questions ranging from the deep (“How do you help sustain the planet”) to the inane (“Do you like my avatar”).
Yahoo Answers in my view is one of the best success stories of user-generated content. It is a very efficient model that fits very well with advertising revenue-generation. Being an online publisher, I would love to have 5-million or so people around the world creating content for me, while I earn from advertising. It’s just too sweet!
Yahoo Answers employ a point system to hook users into contributing and participating in the community. They reward you 2 points for answering a question, 1 point for voting for the best answer, and 10 points for getting Best Answers. When I joined in February, you can also get 1 point for rating an answer (which they have since removed).
At first, I simply racked up points by voting and rating, and occasionally answering questions. Until I discovered I can get 10 points for getting best answers, so I changed my tactic early on and decided to craft answers that will blow the asker and voters away and choose my answer as the best. And it worked. I’ve been the top of the Business and Finance category for months now, and in the top 20 on the global leaderboard (read my tips on how to get Best Answers).
Alas, user generated content also has its pitfalls. Wall Street journal in an August 2006 article
Portals: Success, greed in the new economy of web point payouts gave an excellent analysis of what can go wrong with the point system payouts. Apparently, people will do everything to get points — from cheating, creating multiple accounts (one asks, the other answers – and the other account is chosen as the best answer), to writing non-answers like “I don’t know” or “Thanks for the 2 points.” These non-answers do not contribute anything to the community.
Take this case for example:
On a question about government grants, a level-7 user (the highest level) copied my answer word for word (not just the gist of my response, but my ENTIRE response down to the last punctuation mark) 3 days after I posted my answer — then won in the voting! They say copying is the best form of flattery, but I say it’s a slap in the face especially if the cheater wins. I complained (oh boy, how I complained!) and the person was suspended. Funny thing, a week or so after the cheat was suspended, he had the gall to ask in the YA forum why he was suspended! Talk about nerves.
Or let us look at one of the fastest rising “stars” of YA – Pullay – who is #1 in the Indian leaderboard and #13 in the global leaderboard. He just joined in July and has racked up a huge amount of points in a short period of time. His tactic? Putting in non-answers such as “I haven’t the foggiest” — which is a non answer and a violation of the community guidelines (for point gaming and for posting non-answers). It’s not hard to get thousands and thousands of points going from one question to another posting “I haven’t the foggiest” — you don’t even have to read the question because you don’t care about the question as long as you get your 2 points. At the time of this writing, a number of questions where the user even got the Best Answers (horrors!) after answering “I haven’t the foggiest” include:
- What tax rate do you pay on the purchase of a used car in Quebec?
- Applying for western universities?
- Automated paint processes to paint metal and plastic frames?
And there are MORE similar non answers from this #1 points leader.
Another fast rising leader (currently #12 in the global leaderboard with 72,000+ points) is Kibagami Jubei. He also posts a lot of non-earth shattering responses, with a lot of point gaming responses such as “No clue” (which is a violation of community guidelines for point gaming and non-answers). Here are some examples:
- What is everybody’s obsession with Jerry Rice tonight? http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060820213931AAADgEB
- How do you get cancer? http://sg.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060831155521AABkEwt
If Yahoo Answers want to be taken seriously and improve their users’ experience, they need to clean up their system fast. Imagine a user coming in and asking “How do you get cancer?” and then receiving a response “No clue, ma’m.” Why bother answering if you have know nothing about the question? And yes, these are the people in the leaderboard – just goes to show how push to gain points is stronger than providing quality responses.
The Yahoo Answers team is aware of the pitfalls of their point system. I just hope that they find the best strategy for addressing it — soon. Or they’ll be the biggest case study in the failure of using community to help index search.