Before Reddit’s Am I the Asshole? forum for the “frustrated moral philosopher”, or days-long Twitter debates about whether you wash your legs in the shower, there was Yahoo Answers: one of the first online crowdsourcing resources, now a repository of infamously idiosyncratic wisdom.
Established in 2005, the “knowledge-sharing” platform was where you might turn for help with a head-scratcher such as “How do I get black ink from a Biro out of coloured clothes?”, “What documents do you need to enter China?” or “Any ladies want to show me their boobs?”.
For a formative period of internet history, Yahoo Answers was the go-to for those queries that are too embarrassing to ask in person, and too complex to answer by search. Some – such as “Do you think humans will ever walk on the sun?”, “If you die in Canada do you die in real life” and “How is babby formed? How girl get pragnent?” – became enshrined as early memes.
Yahoo Answers’ blockbuster success was such that even Google was forced to admit defeat, closing its own Answers platform in 2006 after only four years.
It was where Stephen Hawking asked for help with the question “How can the human race survive the next 100 years?” – which drew “nearly 16,000” responses within two days, a number that now seems quaint. (One helpful suggestion: “Procreation seems the obvious route.”)
And it was where, in 2013, Shia LaBeouf turned after he was found to have copied someone else’s idea in his short film – lines from his apology were promptly revealed to have been plagiarised from a four-year-old Yahoo Answers entry titled “Why did Picasso say ‘good artists copy but great artists steal’.”
For a time, Yahoo Answers was said to be the second most-visited reference site on the internet after Wikipedia, drawing 120 million users worldwide.
No more. Yahoo announced the closure of the site abruptly and without ceremony this month, stating that it had decided to “focus on products that better serve our members”. In its FAQ page about the transition, those left asking themselves “Where should I go when I have questions in the future?” were directed to Yahoo Search.
From 4 May, the Yahoo Answers website will redirect to Yahoo’s homepage, and its “community of global knowledge sharing”, built over 16 years, will be lost. Internet archivists, likening it to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, are working on a plan to save all 84m submitted questions.
We’ve brought together some of the best questions before they are gone forever.