Online study suggests new genre of search engine queries

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Online study suggests new genre of search engine queries

An academic analysis of users of Yahoo Answers has led to speculations of a new genre of online questions that are more tailored to social forums than traditional search tools.

By analysing one month of activity on the Web site, the researchers found that users of the Web site tend to favour constrained discussions with other people, rather than seeking information directly from the Internet.

“There are gobs and gobs of useful information on the web,” said Lada Adamic, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and first author of the study.

“Search tools allow one to, in principle, access a fair portion of it with relative ease. Yet, just as one may turn to a colleague for an answer to a question rather than search through a book, millions of individuals are flocking to online question/answer forums to seek answers directly from others. Part of the reason is the social aspect of online question/answer forums.”

Researchers examined the most popular 300 of approximately 1000 categories on the Web site, representing more than 91 percent of the content on the site. Topics studied include: jokes and riddles; philosophy, religion and politics; marriage and divorce; physics; programming; chemistry; and celebrities.

Inquiries that sought factual answers about topics such as biology, repairs and programming tended to receive fewer replies, while categories such as fashion and baby names received comparatively long answer threads that included advice and common-sense expertise.

Similarly, categories seeking opinion like politics and religion, for which there is no single answer, tended to attract many answers as well.

The study concluded that the span of knowledge shared on Yahoo Answers is broad, but generally not very deep.

"A lot of the use of Yahoo Answers is being driven by these constrained kinds of discussions," said Mark Ackerman, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information who co-authored the study.

"People are working against the medium. They're creating a new response pattern. Perhaps there's a new online genre that's particular to Yahoo Answers."
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