I’ve fallen back in love with Yahoo! Answers. And yes, I know that Yahoo! Answers is often considered a joke on the Internet, what with plenty of stupid, joke, or trolling questions and answers- after all, this is where we answered the question of “How is babby formed?” and learned about the infinite loop that may occur if your baby gets pregnant. But at the same time, Y!A has helped me (I’ve often found an answer there to a question I’ve Googled) and, more importantly, it’s been oddly integral to making me who I am today.
We have a love-hate relationship, Y!A and I. Mostly because they kept (keep?) on suspending my accounts. I first started on Y!A in October 24, 2006, halfway through college, where, under the username cando_86, I proceeded to reach their highest level (Level 7) with 29,392 points and Top Contributor status in the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered” and “Gender Studies” categories. (For those not in the know, a user gets two points for every question they answer, ten points for every answer of theirs which is chosen as “Best”, one point for voting on best answers, and five points deducted for asking a question).
It took a little more than a year for me to have my account suspended, something which happens after a user gets a certain amount of violation notices. Occasionally i was the victim of hateful trolls reporting perfectly fine answers, but more often than not, I truly was in violation of the Y!A rules- namely, for refusing to keep my answers PG-13. If the questions asked, I offered up well-sourced and researched answers on all types of sexual questions, from masturbation and sex toys to porn and anal. And lots and lots of LGBT questions
Though the first suspension was devastating and I swore to boycott, I couldn’t stay away (one need only ask my bestie, who, as my dormmate during this time, witnesses it all), and I proceeded to go through two (or three?) more accounts: from June 12, 2007, as Gwen B, I reached Level 6, with 12,547 points (unfortunately, for some reason, Yahoo! Answers has not appeared to have archived my time as Gwen B; clicking my name takes you to this screen). From June 15, 2008, onward, as Gwennie B, I reached Level 6 again, with 22,503 points. I’m proud of my answers; some, like this well-linked (and hence quite thumbed-up and relatively commented upon) answer, have been republished and discussed in several non-Y!A places.
And then, since May 23, 2009, I’ve had my account as a second incarnation of Gwennie B (possible due to deleting the e-mail account associated with the first and choosing the same username with a new e-mail account), once again at Level 6, with 22,322 points and counting. It’s only recently that I’ve started answering questions again; my account has lain dormant for about two years. What had happened? Well, beside suffering from extreme deja vu thanks to all the repetition in the questions (copy ‘n’ paste answers are a godsend!), I just didn’t seem to have much interest any more. I figured I had simply moved on … until, on a whim, I recently decided to get back on and search out my current issue du jour: reproductive rights. Imagine my surprise- the excitement was back! I clicked over to the LGBT section … and the excitement drained right back out. My passion for queer issues hasn’t subsided, yet my interest hardly stirred. What was going on?
I think I’ve started to understand the phenomenon. When I started on Y!A, I was a fledgling little queer. The LGBT section offered untold opportunity- every question was one that I either had never thought of before, or on which I was only just starting to form my own opinions. For much of it, I had little or no knowledge of the topics at hand, which led to plenty of Google adventures in an effort to find more information, to know more, to learn more (when I wasn’t learning from my fellow answerers, that is). And everything about Y!A made (makes?) it wonderful to spend time on; its format is deceptively simple and terribly addictive.
In its first (and even later) stages, Y!A compels you surge onward. The more you answer, the sooner you reach the next level, which offers you “prizes”, like the ability to answer even more questions. Clever, eh? Reaching higher levels becomes somewhat of a matter of status, as does getting the orange badge of Top Contributor. And while the lure of ten points for a Best Answer was also a very good motivator, the answer rating system of thumbs up or down, voted on by other users, was perhaps even more so. You wanted to write a good answer (“good” not necessarily meaning the most factual, but oftentimes a combination of the quickest, the clearest, the most factual, most well-sourced, most full of helpful links, most witty or funny, etc.) so you could see others’ appreciation via your thumbs ups.
But more than that, I’m realizing now, is that the very environment of Yahoo! Answers provided a space for me to work out my own understandings of queer and sexual issues (and later, those of feminism). Though a blog would have provided the same space, it’s not the same- a blog doesn’t come with a built-in audience that is often necessary to motivate all but the most persistent. (Not to mention that a question is the most perfect prompt, unlike a blank page and blinking cursor staring at you). Most Yahoo! Answerers are not too verbose, but when the situation required it, I adored writing long, multi-paragraphed answers, essentially blog posts in themselves. In fact, since my first few stints at Y!A, they appear to have reduced the maximum amount of characters for an answer, as answers I used to write and which are still published on the site no longer fit and ask me to try again, with less.
I wrote and wrote, and as I wrote, I pinpointed my positions of the various issues. (I especially took great joy in bypassing the easy answers that were all similar and instead winning more thumbs up by finding new and unique nuances and information to convey). I learned and grew tremendously … until I finally hit my peak. Although real-life demands and new, different Internet formats (hay there, Blogger and Tumblr!) certainly played a part, my two-year hiatus from Y!A was, fundamentally, me saying that I had taken all I could from it, and given all I had to offer as well. That two-way interaction was no longer bearing fruit- only full of boredom and repetition.
In my newfound joy over answering questions about reproductive rights, I’m starting to realize that I’m engaging in the same process. The questions are appealing because they challenge me: can I make my case, and make it eloquently enough to change minds or at least win some begrudging respect? When a questioner adds a comment to his or her question, addressing some point I’ve made, I salivate- here lies the ability to hone my arguments even better, and to figure out what i really do think about certain issues. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that the majority of answers on this issue are sorely lacking in facts, which I am more than happy to provide).
Surely, at some point in time, I imagine I’ll have reached the saturation point on reproductive rights, too, having wrung dry all the thoughts on the matter that crowd my head. But for the moment, I’m right there in the sweet spot, and I’ve got to say, it feels really, really good. I’ll probably even turn a few answers into Tumblr posts in the future, so you can look forward to that.