I read an interesting review on Yahoo Answers yesterday. For those who do not know, Yahoo Answers gives Yahoo users an opportunity to ask any question which is then answered by other Yahoo users. The Yahoo user asking the question can then select the best answer. However, the other answers are supposed to supplement the best answer so you receive a rich, robust reply to your inquiry. In essence, it is reference by the masses instead of the one where the wisdom of crowds outweigh the wisdom of the one.
At least, that is the theory.....
I tested it out. I posed the following question: Did they have paper airplanes before 1900? I was pleasantly surprised when the Yahoo Answers team emailed me to inform me that my question had been selected as a featured question. It now appears at the top of the main page. I have to say that the majority of the answers to my questions have been ineffective (one was even insulting), but there have been two credible replies.
Is it as effective as a good reference librarian? I think not. For one, I could never verify the answers I received. Only one answer gave me a source to follow and this source was unfamiliar website with no way to prove its credibility. I know with a good reference librarian I would receive the answer along with material to support it.
Yahoo Answers is an interesting social experiment so I recommend you check it out just to get a taste, but I would not close the reference desk quite yet. If this page is any indication, it will be awhile before we have to do this.