Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Yahoo! Answers vs. Wiki's

As I was driving back to work today I was wondering what the 33 in Club 33 represents. I immediatly thought next that I would check to see if there is a Wiki and Im sure it would be there. This also mase me think about Yahoo! Answers which was specifically designed as a fun place for you to designate yourself as an "expert" on something and then answer questions that other users pose. These other users would be experts on other matters, etc. completing the community.

Yahoo! Answers was killed in its first incarnation as Yahoo! Experts and has been brought back but still hasnt taken off like Wiki's have.

They are both repositories of communal information and with a good user base can both have answers to the little questions that it is hard to find other places.

So why are Wiki's popular and the Answers format not?

1. No way to know which is the right answer on Yahoo! Answers. Often when you look at a question you get different answers and there is no way to know which is right. If you knew, you wouldnt have asked. In a wiki there is only one answer and you are taking it on faith that it is correct but there is a trust in the community that you assume when you find the information. Granted that trust may be misplaced, but because you dont have to question it, it seems more reliable (and quotable).

2. Your part of the solution - On a wiki whatever little bit you add feels like your making a contribution to a larger database of information. This may be partly due to the media attention or the fact that it is related to an encyclopedia. But when you answer a question that is one of a jumble of 100 other questions asked about Mickey Mouse, Days of our Lives, or particle accelorerators it doesnt become part of the main body of knowledge like in a wiki and seems less important. If you edit the Mickey Mouse wiki, something you wrote might come up in result #3 on a search for that term!

3. You dont have to do all the work. If one person lays out the main body of a wiki other people can add little bits or change little bits later. It seems less daunting to get in there and contribute.

4. Your helping everyone, not one person - When I started using Yahoo! Answers in its first incarnation as Yahoo! Experts some of the questions would be very involved in researching or explaning and it was hard to make time to write to some random person when someone else might ask the same question 3 weeks later because they didnt search past questions. In a wiki when you add information or correct information it is there for everyone to see (and there is no nagging for your time/expertise).

Answers does have the advantage that if you cant find it anywhere else you can ask there. Also, the different format lets it house information that would not be found in Wikipedia. For example, I found a question and a fwe answers on how to get out of traffic tickets. Unfortunatly the answers were as varied as you would find if you asked 10 people at a party and about the same quality.

Both of these sites are trying to bring together information locked inside peoples minds to form a larger communal knowledge base. But Wikipedia has taken the next logical step and organized and presented this information better. As nice as FAQs are they are not a very useful repository of knowledge. You may find an answer but it is usually not exactly what you are looking for. And you cant explore it.

You will never get lost and fascinated in an FAQ like you will in an Encyclopedia and its "(See Vol.4 Ch.19 Pg.877)" references or the more immediate satisfaction behind the underlined blue text leading you to more knowledge in a Wiki.