Yahoo lends an expert hand

Yahoo Experts, launched last week, is a free service designed to match up people who have questions with people who have answers. It is the result of customer demand, says Matt Hull, senior producer for Yahoo Experts.

"It evolved out of other services that we offer, including the message boards and clubs," he says. "Users could post questions there, but we found they were looking for a more formal way to get advice."

It could also be in response to the competition: Expert Web sites are everywhere, and new ones continue to appear. About.com, AskMe.com, and Exp.com are just a few of the sites facing a new competitor in Yahoo Experts.

So, should they be worried?

Yahoo's Look and Feel

If you are familiar with Yahoo, you'll be right at home in Yahoo Experts. The interface is reminiscent of all the portal's offerings, and while this may be a bit redundant, it also makes for easy navigation.

To use Yahoo Experts, you'll need a Yahoo log-in and password. The service gives you two options when posing a question: You can choose an expert from the available list, or you can pose your question to a group of experts and see who is willing to answer. (You aren't limited in how many responses you can receive, so if you are looking for a variety of opinions, the latter may be your best option.) If the expert is currently online, you can also communicate via Yahoo Messenger.

The experts are divided into categories covering a wide range of topics. Yahoo has experts ready to advise you on a wide range of topics, including relationships, gardening, religion, and technology. You can read the profiles that the experts have entered and can view a history of the queries they have answered in the past.

Experts Not Screened

Keep in mind that Yahoo does not screen its experts, as some sites do. Yahoo instead relies on customer feedback. After an expert answers you, you can rate them on the quality of their answer and the time it took them to respond.

"The users can let the experts with the best insight and advice rise to the top," Hull says.

If you have a serious, pressing problem, Yahoo Experts may not be the site for you. You may want to consider one of the sites that does screen its experts. Or (more likely) you may seek advice offline from someone you know and trust.

But if you are looking for a little light-hearted advice, Yahoo Experts is worth a try. The advice is free, which isn't the case at some advice sites, and you don't have to take all the advice you get.

Yahoo Experts' biggest advantage could be its size. Chances are that one of the millions of Yahoos will be able to help you out.

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