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The end of Yahoo! Answers is the end of an era for the web

Farewell to the cradle of the chaos and beauty of Internet

The end of Yahoo! Answers is the end of an era for the web Farewell to the cradle of the chaos and beauty of Internet

On May 4th Yahoo! Answers will close forever: starting April 20, the site will enter read mode while in early May the switch off will arrive. The official causes of the closure are the obsolescence of the platform and the difficulty of moderation of the content on it, which has become a kind of immense Library of Alexandria of online trash. But it is also true that in its 15 years of history (the service began in 2005 but arrived in Italy in 2006), Yahoo! Answers was one of the first global internet phenomena to which the entire community contributed, as well as one of the cradles of cringe and online trolling. The site became famous around 2010 for the amount of outlandish questions posted anonymously on the most varied topics: from teenagers using it for clarification on uncomfortable topics such as sex or drugs to mothers exposing the most dysfunctional dynamics of their family; from ignorant questions ("Why aren't the stars seen by the telescope five-pointed?") to translations of the Greek and Latin versions. 

Yahoo! Anwsers, as well as Tumblr in its early days, the InSegreto site, proto-social media such as Netlog or the Myspace and MSN blog universe, was the example of a collaborative web culture model that today, in the extreme individualism of ad personam social accounts, is being lost. And although it is true that Tumblr still resists and that Reddit and Quora fulfill the functions that were once Yahoo! Answers, it is also true that the platform represented the first example of a web cultural phenomenon whose content was 100% user generated and in which creativity, humor and real life mingled in a way that today would be impossible to reproduce. Imagine asking the same awkward questions on a Facebook or Twitter group, where each post pretty much bears the signature of the person who wrote it, or asking, as an anonymous user did 10 years ago, "What's the song that goes 'Yuhuuuu uannagivaciuweva.. yuhuuu!'?". 

Yahoo! Answers, in short, was a liminal or, to use a comic term, a cross-dimensional place where the chaotic, naïve, fascinating and tragic ambiguity of the internet of origins manifested itself in all its paradoxical glory. Its main product was trolling and meta-humor, but also conspiracy theories, the ancestors of today's memes, as well as the ante-litteram version of triggering with deliberately out-of-mind questions and one of the first appearances of so-called "grammar nazis", people who answered questions only to fuse users' language errors. It was all the result of completely unconscious cooperation – a cooperation that laid the foundations of Italian Internet culture as we know it today.

Finally, Yahoo! Answers represented a world in its own right, with a completely unique character – something that is lost in the age of social media. A microcosm today semi-forgotten but that left its mark creating the first social mythology of the Internet of those times together with the rest of his "colleagues": just think of the "Tumblr aesthetic" with its nostalgic, poetic but cloying beauty, on which Lana del Rey founded her career; just think of Netlog's unapologetic cringe, with its immense subculture mines of the early 2000s, the ignorant humor of ScuolaZoo with the breakdown of its holidays in Greece or web piracy academies such as eMule and Megaupload – all salvation lights in a pre-Instagram, pre-Netflix, pre-Shazam, pre-Whatsapp world. It was a decidedly unsafe world, which we now gladly do without, but which despite everything is a regret to see go away: in an increasingly aseptic, professional and "moderate" web with guidelines and restrictions, the disappearance of Yahoo! Answers represents the end of an era that, unfortunately and fortunately, will never return.