Exploring the Wickedly Weird (But Surprisingly Kind) World of Yahoo! Answers

You've probably already seen the brilliant compilations of all the horrendous spelling and grammar atrocities that litter Yahoo! Answers. In case you haven't, this one is a good place to start (please put the sound on; the voiceover guy is a bonafide reading genius):

While tear-inducingly hilarious, the work of J.T. Sexkik's YouTube channel merely scratches the surface of what is truly one of the most entertaining, underrated, and surprisingly gentle places online: Yahoo! Answers.

This odd little corner of the web is truly a place where the tragedy and comedy of life can play out in the most surprising (and frequently hilarious) ways. If you want to find out about humanity's deepest, darkest secrets -- our fears, our loves, our paranoias, our desires -- Yahoo! Answers is positively Shakespearean in its scope. It's also frequented by an awful lot of people who appear to be in the midst of existential crises.

"Is Jesus Alive?" has garnered 37 answers so far, that range from devout confirmations, passages of bible scripture, historical analysis of non-biblical texts, and, brilliantly, some guy who says: "Sorry, he's long dead; you missed him by almost 2000 years. But there are still a lot of people worth knowing who are alive today." Thanks for the positive spin, eldad9!

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Then there's the question of "Where is the devil?" Depending on who you listen to in the thread that follows, Satan is either "inside all of us," "right here on Earth," "on the news," "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," "in man's imagination," "in hell," and (compellingly, two separate people offer this answer) "Rome."

"Are Ghosts Real....?" receives answers that cover everything from spiritism, demons, electromagnetic power, "people's imaginations," "Pareidolia," poltergeists, and, wonderfully, an interjection noting that "the words 'ghost' and 'guest' derive from the same original word." Who knew?

In addition to answering life's most compelling questions, Yahoo! Answers offers an insight into other humans you simply don't find anywhere else. One of the greatest-ever entries asks "Do I have a stigmatic twin?" The individual asking the question goes into great detail, trying to explain why they suspect a long lost twin might be lurking somewhere.

"twins can sense if something is wrong with each other, but lately ive been really itchy all the time, i usually get bruises that come out of know where and sometimes my side just has a really dull pain in it. i never really asked if i had a twin... or im just going paranoid. this one time a while back, i had a sharp kinda pain in my ear and i don't have an ear infection or anything but it was like i got my cartilage pierced or something. ...im really freaked out. and i swear sometimes that someone says my name and no one says it at all...i have even looked at the family tree and stuff and i didn't find anything...please help."

The user gets several responses that delicately reassure them that the likelihood of a long lost twin is unlikely.

The insight Yahoo! Answers gives us into humanity's capacity for (ir)rationality, as well as patience, is astounding. When one user asks: "Am i reincarnated? I asked this... because when I was a little kid, I started to use a bo (martial art weapon... nobody ever thought me to use), and I can eat with chopsticks (nobody thought me how to eat with chopsticks)," they are -- like the suspected stigmatic twin -- not greeted with mockery. In fact, the "best answer" under the reincarnation question features the phrase: "in my opinion, the attraction to those things may be indicative of past life attachments."

In a world where we routinely tell each other not to read the comments, Yahoo! Answers is an incredibly caring place. For every stupid question that makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with people ("Did I turn my boyfriend into a vampire?," anyone?), there is someone reaching out and trying to help, thereby immediately restoring your faith in humanity.

A lot of the questions on this website are so irrational and obvious, they don't even require more than a simple yes or no response.

"Has anyone been deathly ill before?" Yes!
"will i die if i ate expiry dated balsamic vinegar?" No!
"Will my step child grow up to enjoy real food?" Yes!

And yet, time and again, people answer with in-depth, serious responses that earnestly try to be of service. This even occurs when people ask questions that are impossible to answer without knowing the people involved -- "Why is my cousin mean to me?" and "Why did my boyfriend leave me?" being excellent examples.

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In the end, any real exploration of Yahoo! Answers is not only an addictive time-suck, it's an emotional rollercoaster. And while elements of it will always be difficult not to make fun of, this public forum acts as a snapshot of humanity's greatest fears and concerns, as well as its finest altruistic attributes. And, if you can get past the frequent flagrant disregard for spelling and grammar, it's a surprisingly nice place to hang out.

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