Yahoo Answers Is Shutting Down After 16 Years. It Leaves Behind a Changed Internet
Riddle me this: what has four legs, lives for 267 years, eats everything, sleeps never? This may leave you perplexed, even speechless; you may be tempted to disregard this for tomfoolery. But someone on Yahoo Answers would valiantly come up with a response — even if it is to a bizarre, baseless question.
All that’s about to change. The community-driven Q&A platform is closing its virtual shop on May 4, Verizon Media, owner of Yahoo! and its subsidiaries, announced yesterday. “Starting on April 20th you will no longer be able to post any new questions or answers. However, you can still view any posted questions and answers until May 4th. On May 4th the site will be shutting down,” a statement on Yahoo Answer’s homepage noted. Users have until June 30th to save information, after which the page will be wiped clean and the data will “no longer [be] available.”
As endings do, the news inspired a fair bit of nostalgia — some called it the “end of an era”; others honored its legacy as a veritable pioneer of the worldwide web. Arguably, Yahoo Answers, launched 16 years ago, did much to cultivate a space for global knowledge, to democratize information, and to help in connecting the world. Age-old wisdom preaches there is no shame in asking, but users on Yahoo Answers put it into practice, asking the most eccentric questions. Sample some of these: Why do people with baguettes think they are better than me? Why is smoke coming out of my belly button?
And while one can only speculate how much of these questions were a result of human curiosity and how many stemmed out of ignorance, the result was a unique stream of content that became fodder for introspection, amusement, or general trolling. A question posed by a visionary went something like this: “How is a babby formed?” a profound rumination that ended up becoming a meme.
Related on The Swaddle:
But the platform’s expiry date became apparent, even needed, as the internet progressed. Left unchecked, Yahoo Answers transformed into a breeding ground for vicious, false content that subverted the purpose of its creation. It had never existed in a social vacuum, and over time, it began to echo and amplify the rampant misinformation, far-right conspiracy theories, fake news, and hate speech that thrive on the internet today. A cursory glance of the homepage will illustrate this: stray bits about Holocaust denial, or racist and sexist slurs, make it hard to appreciate the platform’s quirky roots. BuzzFeed News called it “one of the dumbest places on the internet” for good reason.
“While Yahoo Answers war once a key part of Yahoo’s products and services, it has become less popular over the years as the needs of our members have changed,” Verizon said in a note to the Yahoo Answers community, according to The Verge. Yahoo Answers became stale, felt archaic, and ended up resonating with a small section of the internet that got a kick out of unverified theories. The shift reflects a societal preference for credibility: fact-checking information and knowing where it’s coming from and who is spreading it, has become a necessity instead of a luxury in an age of misinformation.
As this internet corner jettisons into oblivion, one also wonders what happens when something on the internet dies. The pragmatic answer is like Verizon, creators end up wiping out data and scrubbing the digital space squeaky clean. But it’s harder to delete public memory. “The internet is constantly disappearing. It’s a world of broken links and missing files — often because the people in charge cast things off on a whim,” Kaitlyn Tiffany writes in The Atlantic. Many relics of the internet — MySpace, Flickr, Vine — had created communities and art; “for many of us, for better or for worse, the internet is home,” Tiffany noted. The internet’s short attention span, non-existing loyalty, and the constant evolution of new subcultures threatened the legacy of these platforms.
Lucky for us, Yahoo Answers has succumbed to these forces, and it is perhaps best left to this forlorn fate. While it may be time to bid farewell to this corner, the question of obsolescence is worth wondering: is every digital product doomed to take on an expiry date from the minute it steps into the realm of a dynamic, cultural product, such as the internet?