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How Yahoo! Answers Shaped The Internet

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

An online corner for curious thinkers, a relic of a bygone Internet, Yahoo says it is shutting down its Q&A forum, Yahoo Answers.

JAISHREE KUMAR: Can you boil your earphones? Can you fall in love with a potato? How is baby formed? That was another one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's journalist Jaishree Kumar reading some of the site's most popular questions wistfully because Yahoo Answers was a crucial resource for her growing up.

KUMAR: There were some questions like, I swallowed a watermelon seed. Am I going to get pregnant? Maybe they were just joking around. But at the age of 11, you probably think that, like, hey, can that happen? Can I end up growing a watermelon baby accidentally?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: During her childhood in India, Yahoo Answers was there for Jaishree Kumar when no one else was.

KUMAR: To be honest, I think the lack of sex education I had in my own country in my own social settings is sort of tied up with this because I was going to Yahoo Answers to look for like, you know, what would constitute as basic sex education.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: News that the website will stop allowing new posts on April 20 and will disappear entirely on May 4 has many former users looking back over these past 16 years for their Yahoo Answers greatest hits.

JACQUI LEVITAN: When I was in fifth grade, we had an explorers project, and every person in my class got assigned an explorer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jacqui Levitan of San Francisco.

LEVITAN: I was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. And there was another boy in my class who also was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, and so I kind of was feeling a little competitive. And I decided I wanted to prank him a little. And so I kept trying to convince him that Cabrillo's favorite color was pink. And he wasn't believing me, and so then I took to Yahoo Answers and posted a question from one account saying, what was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's favorite color? - and then went in and answered it with a different account.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She looked it all up.

LEVITAN: Answered February 13, 2009. According to most of my research, Cabrillo's favorite color was pink. My name is Catalina Rodriguez, and I am distantly related to Juna Cabrillo. I have done a lot of research about this topic, and it is quite true.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Levitan remembers her poor classmate dressing in pink for his presentation. No word on if points got deducted.

MICHAEL DUGAN: The first time I used Yahoo Answers, arguably, was in high school when we had take-home tests that I could copy and paste the test question into Yahoo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Michael Dugan of Atlanta.

DUGAN: Funny enough, it was pretty much anything. Like, I'm a chemist now, and I know I definitely used it on some chemistry tests in high school and even college.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tan Tran says he also relied on Yahoo Answers with a dash of hope.

TAN TRAN: The funny thing about Yahoo Answers is you can rank up responses. The highest rated, I pray, is usually the correct one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dugan says he saw warning signs, though.

DUGAN: Like, when I searched an answer to cheat for a test, you know, you would dive down a rabbit hole, and you'd see some dumb response to a pretty easy question. And you'd always laugh that.

LUKE WINKIE: Will my laptop get heavier if I put more files on it?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's writer Luke Winkie reading an example. He called Yahoo Answers the most earnest place on the Internet.

WINKIE: You read it, and you're not sure if it's someone kind of just making a joke, or if it's someone who is genuinely curious about this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which is precisely why people like Sophie Armstrong are sad to see it go.

SOPHIE ARMSTRONG: I was really hurt when I heard Yahoo Answers was going to close because it has had a incredible cultural impact on the Internet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shane Conerty (ph), who runs a meme account called Sad Yahoos, is dedicating the next few weeks to preserving the site's content.

SHANE CONERTY: So after May 4, there will be a Yahoo Answers home, I guess, dedicated to the ridiculousness of Yahoo Answers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And its incredible cultural impact. RIP Yahoo Answers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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