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SiliconBeat and Battelle both cover "Yahoo! Answers," an interesting new social media/community initiative from Yahoo!.

The idea is that I can ask the community any question and, probably, get an answer. Google Answers is a similar service, but it's not free. (On some level the different approaches to "Answers" capture the cultural differences between Yahoo! and Google.)

Questions can range from "Looking for a good spa in the SF Bay Area?" to "Can you recommend a book for a 70-something conservative man?"

So there are both local and non-local angles. To use Hollywood speak, it's a bit of MyWeb meets Wikipedia meets meets the Berkeley Parents Network.

The immediate question that arises is the Wikipedia question about quality control. Yahoo! has attempted to solve that by getting the community to rate the best answers (and by creating a system of points), assuming that once there's enough participation the correct answers will always or generally win — except in matters of subjective opinion (e.g., books for 70-year-old conservatives). But what about "technical" questions such as health and law?

This is another very interesting deployment of what now might be called Yahoo!'s "social media platform." Whether and how Yahoo! intends to integrate any of this content into other areas of the site is uncertain — clearly there will be valuable local recommendations coming from this. Yahoo! 360 local reviews get associated with local businesses and appear in Yahoo! Local results. I would imagine the company will try something similar here.

The SiliconBeat post alludes to tagging (a la Flickr, MyWeb) as a way for users to organize and share content. That's interesting but less interesting to me than the question I just mentioned: How will Yahoo! leverage relevant answers in other areas of the site? And here's a related question: With so many verticals, apps and services, how will Yahoo! expose these things to people and drive usage — especially where "critical mass" is a critical component of the application?

In some sense, we're seeing the "long tail" emerge within Yahoo! in some of these new applications and "verticals."

As with the community layer on Yahoo! Shopping, Trip Planner and Yahoo! Autos Custom, the possibilities are starting to become endless, in terms of combining social content with structured content. (Think about all the potential maps mashups that could emerge from Answers eventually.)

Now, having created a platform and a social media strategy, Yahoo! could create more and more of these tools/applications and "verticals." But each time it does, it faces the problem of exposing or promoting the tools and fragmenting the audience. What if Answers becomes a better source of local recommendations than Yahoo! Local? (It probably won't and I'm sure Yahoo! has an answer for me.)

If the "back end" is sophisticated enough to cross-pollinate and integrate relevant content across applications and the Yahoo! network, then I say, go for it. Create more of these applications and see where the traction is. But if Yahoo! is just creating more silos and not leveraging that content in other areas of the site, then there's a potential concern, from a "strategic" perspective, that the company is creating something like a shoe store with too many shoes to choose from. So that was an awkward analogy, I'll admit, but you get the idea: potential consumer confusion.

What's amazing and "cool" (there's that word I keep using lately) is the creativity that all the "Web 2.0" thinking and tools have unleashed. And among the Internet incumbents, Yahoo!'s at the forefront.

We'll have to see where it all goes.


Here's more from the Yahoo! Search Blog.

Update: Just spoke with Pete Barlas at Investors Business Daily and he pushed me to look at the advertising side of this. I suspect Yahoo! has no immediate plans to monetize, but a) this is a way to acquire new registered users and b) offers some very targeted (behavioral/contextual) ad opportunities down the line.

Here's a case-in-point: think about weddings — "Any recommendations for a florist for my wedding in Boston?" What florist (or caterer or photographer) wouldn't want access to that consumer? Or what about, "What's the best laptop for under $1,000?" Wouldn't Dell and HP want to get access to that consumer?

Update 2: Forgot to mention that this is a version of sites like Wondir.

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