Reliability Requires Redundancy

from the peer-review dept

Slate has an interesting column by Jacob Leibenluft that compares the relative reliability of Yahoo! Answers and Wikipedia. He notes that unlike Google Answers, which was shuttered last year, Yahoo's answers site has become quite popular. Google paid its contributors to answer questions, but Yahoo! only offers contributors points that entitle them to ask questions of their own on the site. Unfortunately, even the service's own users acknowledge that Yahoo! Answers isn't very reliable. Often a question will attract a dozen or more answers. Some of them will probably be right, but others will be wrong, and it might be hard to tell which is which. Leibenluft contrasts that to Wikipedia which, while far from perfect, tends to have accurate information the vast majority of the time. He zeroes in on three important characteristics that give Wikipedia the edge. First, whereas Yahoo! Answers lets each user to give his or her own answer, the Wikipedia process is geared toward producing a single article that represents the consensus of all contributors. Second, Wikipedia has a strong norm of citing outside sources when contributors disagree. Usually, when there's a factual disagreement, someone will go out and find a citation in a reliable source to demonstrate the correct answer. Finally, Yahoo! Answers closes a question after about a week, whereas a Wikipedia article is open for editing indefinitely. This is important because Wikipedia articles tend to get more accurate over time, as more and more readers visit them and fix mistakes. It would be interesting for Yahoo! to experiment with a wiki-based format for Yahoo! Answers, where users collaborate on a single collective answer to the question rather than giving a bunch of individual answers. The major difficulty would be that the site's point-based reward system would be difficult to apply, since several users would have contributed to the final answer.

Techdirt's own Insight Community is similar in some ways to the Yahoo! and Google Answer programs. The failure of Google Answers might be a reason for pessimism, but I think there are a few key differences that make TIC more likely to succeed. First, the community is sharply focused on a fast-changing industry where expertise is especially valuable. Second, TIC is focused on providing insight and analysis, not just plain facts. With factual questions, a customer will typically be seeking a single correct answer. But with strategic business questions, there usually isn't one right answer; companies are often interested in hearing about several different approaches, and there can be a lot of value in seeing the arguments that experts marshal for various options. Finally, Techdirt is much more selective about the experts it brings onboard, using experts' blogs and other writings as a way of identifying those who know what they're talking about and can communicate it clearly. That gives the TIC a great signal-to-noise ratio.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Matthew, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 11:07am

    Nice Ad

    Why would Yahoo change? Why would it try to directly compete with Wikipedia when it has its own niche currently?

    Conversely, why should wikipedia try to adopt any kind of payment system. It's background as a vounteer-drive community gives it: prestige, trust, and viability.

    But to toot your own horn after all this gloss-job is just too low.

     

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  2.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 10th, 2007 @ 11:12am

    I've never used Google Answers, but based on the times I browsed the Yahoo site, the reason for it being less than useful is clear - it's annoying to use due part to dumb questions by dumb teenagers cluttering up everything.

    Let me clarify: I have browsed the site on occasions when i've been bored or led to the site by a Google search. Most of the questions I'd look to try to answer would be I.T. or movie related. But, as helpful as I'm feeling, to get to any questions worth answering you have to wade through the "isn't (flavour of the month actor/singer) sexy/ugly?", "does (new game/movie) suck/isn't it the greatest!" kind of questions. Add to that a large number of questions that seem to get 3 or 4 responses like "I dunno lol" before anyone tries a serious answer, and it's a pretty poor resource for getting an intelligent question answered with any accuracy.

     

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  3.  
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    4-80-sicks, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 11:39am

    Re: Nice Ad

    But to toot your own horn after all this gloss-job is just too low.

    Uhh...that's...kind of the point of this site. Present a range of free content in order to get corporations interested in the paid consulting service.

    Why would Yahoo change?

    Perhaps Yahoo might be interested in accuracy? I don't know why anybody would care about that, but some people are just kind of crazy you know.

    why should wikipedia try to adopt any kind of payment system.

    Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but could you point out where that was suggested?

     

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  4.  
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    Matthew, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re: Nice Ad

    I think the place speaks for itself quite nicely. But a vague article with a chance to say "HEY LOOK AT US" is obnoxious. However, I'm not the audience for that sort of thing so what shall be shall be.

    Yahoo isn't interested in accuracy, they're interested in traffic. Fantasy sports, chat rooms, and matchmaking do more for their site than news I'm sure. It so happens that the occasional google search that has led me to their site for gaming questions have proven fruitful. I'm not going to ask medical questions of them, or write a history paper based on what I found, but that's not the point.

    No one suggested that. I was thinking outside the box.

     

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  5.  
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    Tim Lee, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Nice Ad

    I've written about a hundred Techdirt posts in the last few months, and this is the first one where I've mentioned any of Techdirt's paid services, because it's the first time they've seemed relevant to the topic at hand. If you think it's "obnoxious" for us to occasionally mention the paid services that make it possible for us to produce a lot of free content on a daily basis, I'm honestly not sure what to tell you.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 1:31pm

    "...First, the community is sharply focused on a fast-changing industry where expertise is especially valuable..."

    Meaning that the audience doesn't expect accurate responses because they know the subject is too difficult for bloggers.

    "..But with strategic business questions, there usually isn't one right answer; companies are often interested in hearing about several different approaches..."

    Meaning that the audience doesn't expect accurate responses because they know the subject is too difficult for bloggers.

    Nothing like getting your excuses in first.

    Clearly if you want to understand a sbject it's best to start somewhere like wikipedia whiach is free and accurate. Then if you want some ammusement you can go to a blog like techdirt .... I still don't get the bit about consulting with an insight community, is that a different bunch of people than the jokkers who write the blog ?.

     

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  7.  
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    mkam, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Nice Ad

    I thought it was a plug but it actually related to the topic at hand. Keep writing the good posts.

    Relating to the topic, I always thought that google answers would have trouble surviving because of the cost for the answers. They could have found some method of attracting good answers that didn't involve as much cost. However, maybe you get what you pay for so that is why the signal to noise ratio on Yahoo answers is so low.

    mkam

     

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  8.  
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    Tim Lee, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nice Ad

    Thanks!

     

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  9.  
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    Mischa, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 2:25pm

    Re:

    The point of Techdirt's Insite Community is to provide expert opinions not factual "accurate responses". Have you ever read any of the questions asked?

    One of the questions displayed right now is "How will the subprime fallout impact tech comanies?" Any answer right now can only be an opinion. An expert and well thought out opinion maybe, but still, only an opinion. No one will really know until after it happens. For that matter I would be very surprised if there will be one "accurate response" that fits all tech companies.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re:

    The point of the article though is all about how to get reliability, which implies a certian amount of accuracy.

     

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  11.  
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    Lord, Dec 10th, 2007 @ 11:38pm

    A strange comparison since Yahoo isn't about reliability but responsiveness, nor generalities but specifics. Try searching Wiki for HD DVR.

     

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  12.  
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    Matthew, Dec 11th, 2007 @ 9:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Nice Ad

    I've written about a hundred Techdirt posts in the last few months, and this is the first one where I've mentioned any of Techdirt's paid services

    I am familiar with these posts, and often they are poignant. However, this one, the entire post, seemed to be concocted for the sole purpose of "Hey, and we do this too." I understand that there are benefits to advertising, but this approach annoyed me. It, to me, came across as self-righteous. Yahoo and Wikipedia are apples and potatoes. Then to try and gravy it with a "yay us" was overboard to me.

    If you think it's "obnoxious" for us to occasionally mention the paid services that make it possible for us to produce a lot of free content on a daily basis, I'm honestly not sure what to tell you

    Then why did you try?

     

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  13.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 11th, 2007 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Nice Ad

    However, this one, the entire post, seemed to be concocted for the sole purpose of "Hey, and we do this too."

    Not at all. I asked Tim if he wanted to write up a post on the Slate article and did not mention (or even think about) Techdirt's services. So the post was not concocted with that purpose in mind at all. Tim felt that it was appropriate to add at the end -- and I actually agree. Because of the similarities of our own service to what was being discussed, it would have been much worse not to mention what we do, especially since we have our own experience and knowledge from what we do and how it relates. Otherwise it would have come off as weird to talk about services that are similar to what we do and leave out our own experiences.

    It wasn't meant to be an "ad" at all, and I'm sorry you felt it was one. It was relevant to the post and Tim added it.

     

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