Once we signed into answers.yahoo.com with our Yahoo ID, we were able to ask and answer questions right away. You can display or hide an image or use a Yahoo avatar to represent you. Unlike the beta version of Windows Live QnA, which lets any user view your Spaces blog, when you sign up with Yahoo Answers, you can choose how much of your information other users can see. Therefore, you don't have to share your full name if it happens to be part of your Yahoo handle--a welcome privacy protection.
Yahoo Answers' queries are labeled by category, such as Business & Finance, Computers & Internet, and Pregnancy & Parenting. You can subscribe to an RSS feed for updates on your questions and save them to Yahoo's My Web, or you can ask Yahoo to e-mail you with the latest answers to your post. As it is a final product, Yahoo Answers offers many more questions and answers than the test edition of Windows Live QnA beta. Unfortunately, Yahoo's incoming list of the newest questions often gets cluttered with junk, such as "I love Chad" or "Who likes Montana chicks?" Luckily, Advanced Search lets you filter by keyword, category, and the number of thumbs-up ratings. Yahoo has toyed with allowing users to integrate Yahoo Videos into their posts but has dropped the idea at this point. Answerbag, on the other hand, allows you attach videos and images to queries and replies.
Yahoo Answers lets you rack up points according to how often and how well you answer other users' questions. Your account opens with a balance of 100 points, and you earn more according to how often and how well you answer other users' questions. A bar graph on your profile page shows how many times you've asked and answered questions. Each question remains open for seven days, during which time other users can provide answers and you can vote for the best answer.
We asked, "What's better to use at the grocery store--paper or plastic?" Within 10 minutes, we received 18 answers, more than triple the number of replies received for the same question posted with Windows Live QnA. However, within a day, we had received roughly the same number of replies from both services. Most of the other Yahoo users' answers were curt and subjective, while several were better thought out. We received more helpful replies with objective, how-to questions, such as how to clean tile cement off of silver jewelry.
Support for Yahoo Answers comes in the form of a user forum and a well-organized, searchable knowledge base, but no e-mail help is available. The self-policing community lets you report bad behavior. Because Yahoo has released the underlying code of Answers to the public, you can check out potential plug-ins from third parties at gallery.yahoo.com.
If you don't want to waste time filtering out responses from amateurs, you can shell out $2.50 to ask a question at Google Answers. If you prefer to remain anonymous, try the free Wondir. Overall, however, we found Yahoo Answers to be a well-organized and simple service that can deliver helpful assistance from among its tens of millions of users--as long as you choose your subjects wisely.