Slate has an interesting article on Why Yahoo! Answers is a librarian’s worst nightmare.
They make some good points about the kinds of questions that are best asked of other people, rather than of a search engine–it’s a distinction I haven’t seen librarians talk about much in our conversations about IM reference and Google. They also point out how deeply unwise the crowd can be.
I’ve used both Yahoo! Answers and the Amazon.com-sponsored equivalent, Askville, to ask both “facty” and “opiniony” questions. The quality of the answers ranged considerably–I got some good conversation about the Kindle, for instance. I also got some pretty lame responses about how vaccines work. I also got an excellent, thorough response about vaccines from a medical librarian who answers a lot of questions in Askville.
Clearly there’s a range of expertise and knowledge in the crowd, and clearly companies like Yahoo! and Google are starting to pick up on that. Again, it makes me think that libraries should be doing more in this department–leveraging the social participation and knowledge of our extremely smart, educated users, and providing some sort of vetting/endorsement/ratings tool to help people tell the good from the bad from the ugly.