Yahoo Users Have Answers

SUNNYVALE, California ~ Charlie Spring is a carpenter by day and an online sage by night.

On typical evenings, the 40-year-old man from a New York State near the Canada border swaps building tools for a computer and joins a cadre of self-appointed pundits dispensing wisdom for free at Yahoo Answers.

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang got the inspiration for Answers during a visit to his Taiwan homeland, where a similar service called Knowledge Search was a national rage, said marketing vice president Patrick Crane.

“The real wow effect of Yahoo Answers, the real powerful thing, is people connecting with each other,” said Crane.

The top 25 Answers gurus were treated to trips to Yahoo to celebrate the service turning one year old last Wednesday.

The guests said they knew each other online but had never met prior to the “birthday party” complete with balloons and blowing out candles on cupcakes in Yahoo’s URL Cafe in Sunnyvale, California.

“The heart of what makes this community work is the passion of these individuals,” said Yahoo manager of social search services Tomi Poutanen.

Spring has answered more than 5,000 of the millions of questions asked at the free internet service, which taps into the wisdom of users worldwide for replies to queries of any sort imaginable.

His responses were rated “best answer” by questioners 81 percent of the time.

“I’m smarter than everybody,” Spring said with a laugh as he and two dozen other US Yahoo Answers savants were honored at the search engine’s campus.

“Actually, it all started with wanting to be able to help people and knowing the answers to questions.”

Spring initially nailed questions that had gone unanswered for a day or longer. He went on to specialize in home, garden and romance.

“In home and garden I know what I’m talking about or I look up a link,” Spring said of his technique. “Love and romance is a mix of opinion and experience. You don’t always have to get it right to be the best answer.”

Spring sometimes devotes hours nightly to answering people’s questions.

“It’s fun – that’s the biggest thing,” Spring said. “I love the points, because I’m competitive, but knowing you helped someone with a problem is satisfying.”

Jeffrey Schwartz, a 19-year-old Texas college student majoring in physics, made the grade by answering questions in science.

“I saw the quality of the answers and thought I could do better,” Schwartz said matter-of-factly after he and others received “Yamster Awards” named after Yahoo’s cartoon hamster character. “I stick to what I know a lot about.”

Responses in Answers often come helpfully couched in personal experience, said Poutanen, who gave the example of his expecting wife getting supportive breast feeding tips from other moms after fruitless standard Internet searches.

Unlike internet message boards brimming with opinion, Answers gives reliability ratings derived from the track records of those that respond, Poutanen noted.

While Yahoo celebrated the first year of Answers, rival Google was writing an epitaph for its fee-based Google Answers service.

Google said in November that it was pulling the plug on the service, which failed to catch on after being launched by the Mountain View, California, search titan more than four years ago.

Google Answers was based on an idea by the company’s co-founder Larry Page and enlisted researchers to find answers to submitted questions at rates ranging from two to hundreds of dollars.

In a rare show of defeat for Google, the online powerhouse said it stopped accepting questions last week and would post the last of the answers by the end of the year.

This summer Microsoft launched a similar no-charge service called Windows Live QnA.

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