A response to Mr. Wadhwa

January 29, 2011 § 9 Comments

By: Michael Wolfe

Vivek Wadhwa, I like a lot of your writing and am into many of the topics you cover, especially international entrepreneurship and the role of entrepreneurship in economic development.  But at the risk of never getting invited to join you on one of your international boondoggles, I just cannot let your Quora post remain un-deconstructed.  Please, all, follow along with me here.

Vivek says, “Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not writing this in my capacity as a university professor or researcher”

But your status as such is what gives you your audience.  At the top of your post:

“But I just don’t believe that Quora will “rule” or become anything like Facebook or Twitter.  It has been a very nice private club; but it’s not for the general public.”

Type a search term into a box.  Read a posting about a movie you just saw.  Upvote your favorite answer.  People are  too dumb to figure that out?  Look at Twitter circa 2007.  If 200M people managed to figure that out,  you really think they can’t digest “Questions” and “Answers” and “Topics” and “People.”   Is your opinion of the Normals really that low?

Over the last month, I have received dozens of messages from TechCrunch readers asking what I think about Quora and why I am not using it…..I believe that the excess hype is destined to make Quora a victim of its own press.  The quality of answers will decline.

You don’t use Quora today even though you thinks it is an excellent resource for people just like you because someday it might not be?  This is like saying, “I don’t watch Mad Men…sure, I would love it, but what if it jumps the shark!”

“Robert Scoble, will simply stop posting on the site when they get drowned out by the noise from the masses.  They will turn away after having their posts voted down”

More readers, more followers, more comments, and more votes will discourage Robert Scoble?  Robert Scoble?  And why will Robert get more downvotes than upvotes?  And if he did wouldn’t someone else then get the top spot who presumably has better content?  Or can the Normals not be trusted to vote up the best stuff?

“personally subjected to the types of mindless, anonymous attacks that you see in the comments section of TechCrunch.”

Which made TechCrunch so useless to you that you stopped using it?  Oh, wait:

“But when there are hundreds of answers to a given question, by people you have never heard of (often with fictitious names), how will you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Voting.  Comments.  Reputation.  Community.  Moderation.

And how will you distinguish fact from fiction?

Voting.  Comments.  Reputation.  Community.  Moderation.

You certainly can’t trust the rankings of the respondents when these rankings are themselves generated by Quora users.”

Just like Wikipedia?   Oh, yeah, Wikipedia.  You don’t mention Wikipedia a single time in this article.  It is the obvious counter.  A serious critique of Quora would address the Wikipedia objection.  Is this a Wikipedia-free zone?

Wikipedia has solved a tougher problem than Quora’s.  Its community converges on a single, factual, balanced, definitive article on each of millions of topics.  All Quora needs to get right is moderating a short list of the most valuable articles on mostly qualitative topics suggested by users.  Your argument hinges on the assumption that the Wikipedia problem is solvable but the Quora problem is intractable.  Or you are suggesting the Quora team isn’t up to the task, despite huge brainpower and all they funding they want?

You could have walked through the various approaches and tools available to confirm user identity, score user reputation, and harness a community to keep quality up (like PeopleRank).  You could have supported why they will not work for Quora although they have worked for other properties.  But you bypass the point, assume Quora will never evolve (although it will), that it will fail because it started in an early adopter community (although all solutions do) and because it is hyped (the most promising sites always are hyped).

It claims that the site does not allow anonymity.  But you can easily sign up for a Quora account with any of your Twitter accounts (you can create as many of these as you want—with fictitious names).

The team will never figure out a way to turn off or modify Twitter sign-ups if they become a problem?  It doesn’t take a stack of  Caltech and Harvard degrees to comment out a line of code.  You can’t imagine improvements that will keep Quora’s quality high, but you have unconstrained imagination for the ways it can degrade.

“How is Quora going to manage hundreds of thousands—or millions—of unruly users, when even the mighty Google seems to be losing the battle for spam?”

Ah, citing corroborating external sources.  Let me look at the article you linked to to understand the author’s arguments.  He must think a lot like you.  Oh, wait:

Nicely played.

Right now, Quora is tech focused.  Its fans proudly proclaim that its usage will spread, just as usage of Twitter

Great example.  Thanks for bringing it up.

“Silicon Valley is again drinking its own Kool-Aid; it is looking at the world through its own prism.”

We should have learned our lesson after the massive failures of Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia.  Yes, some succeed, some fail.  You need to support why Quora will fail.

“This is a common problem here, where we jump from one fad to another; where venture capitalists start investing in similar technologies and drive company valuations through the roof

We can all agree that some companies get overhyped early on.  Let’s see which company you linked to to support the point that hyped companies often don’t live up to their potential:

OK, repeat: the examples you are choosing really aren’t helping your cause.

“It is not likely to even catch up with the current market leaders in the Q&A space—Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers (which both get more than 40 million unique visitors a month”

You just spent a whole article arguing that the Q&A model does not scale, then you cite two badly run sites with as much moderation as a kindergarden class that have 40 frickin million visitors!  Again, you really need to start picking better examples.  If those guys can get to 40 million visitors with crappy legacy sites, why can’t Quora get to 100M highly engaged users?

“Unlike Facebook, where everyone socializes. Twitter, where ordinary people tell their friends what they are thinking.”

Yah, “everyone” is socializing!  You describe these like a USA Today reporter in 2007.  Quora fills a different need but a large need.  And Quora doesn’t need to be as big as Facebook or Twitter to be a success.

“a Quora-like tool is only for those who want to learn what their intellectual peers are saying on, or to research, a particular topic.  This is for the tech types—who dabble in technology and dream about things like startups and funding.”

Up until now, you’ve been making an argument, but one I disagree with.  Now your train of thought has completely derailed.

You argue that a huge onrush of users will turn the site into another Yahoo Answers.  You then argue that Quora will never be as big as Yahoo Answers.  Now you say the onrush of users will never happen, and Quora will remain a niche site for people like Robert Scoble and Vivek Wadhwa.  But  Robert will leave and you will never join.  Because that onrush of users will turn the site into Yahoo Answers.  Except for the 40M visitors part.  What?

And only Silicon Valley tech types read, research, have interests, hobbies, professional needs?  And valley types just dabble and dream?  I thought we started me-too companies and ran up valuations?

“What is more likely to happen and makes far more sense is that a new generation of private, gated communities will grow and evolve.  This is where people with common interests will gather and exchange ideas.”

Great idea.  Wait, didn’t we just hear eight paragraphs about why Q&A sites always degrade as they grow?  Or is that just Quora?  Quora has many smaller communities within it that organize around common topics.  Quora can’t moderate those as well as the niche sites can, despite having more cash and scale to bring to bear on the problem?  Does your whole argument hinge on their not commenting out that line of Twitter sign up code?

Quora will become Yahoo Answers.  Except it will never be as big as Yahoo Answers.  It will remain a niche site.  Niche sites are the future.  Except for Quora.

“For example, for people seeking legal advice, there is LawPivot, and for businesses looking for experts, there is Focus.   For techies, there are sites like StackOverflowSlashdotHacker News….etc.”

And there will be a Wikipedia for history, a Wikipedia for literature, a Wikipedia for sports?  Whoops…I violated the “Wikipedia-free debating zone” rule.  Can’t niche sites co-exist with broader sites?

Can you not imagine a Quora that is not Yahoo Answers, not a niche site, not Facebook, not Twitter?  Something that doesn’t exist yet but that has huge potential if they get it right?

“Why do the Silicon Valley elite believe that everyone will flock to a U.S.-based tech site like Quora?”

Like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and dozens of other examples?  Well, at a minimum Quora would need some feel-good internationally-looking logo.  Here’s inspiration:

Sorry, did it again!

 

Michael Wolfe is the CEO of ccloop.com and a frequent contributor on Quora.

§ 9 Responses to A response to Mr. Wadhwa

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TheWattBot, ayo o. ayo o said: hilarious wolfe v. wadhwa on quora http://quorareview.com/2011/01/29/a-response-to-mr-wadhwa/ [...]

  • aaron says:

    great critique

  • Dude says:

    is that all quora can do? oh shit.

  • Tyler Willis says:

    This is a brilliant post – well written. The hype is really driving a lot of fluffy articles about Quora, I’d love to see more nuanced analysis of what it could be, should be, and/or problems it’s facing.

    Your post is a huge step in the right direction — I wonder though, what do you think the biggest potential pitfall that is facing Quora right now?

  • Liz says:

    Finally reading this critique two days after it posted. I usually don’t like blog posts or newspaper articles where people go for the jugular but I can’t argue with any of your points. You nailed the confusion in this critique of Quora and makes me wonder if the author even proofread his work before sending it to Techcrunch. There are just so many inconsistencies to his argument.

    I may not like your “tone”, Michael, but luckily I’m not your mom. Just an appreciative reader.

  • Lucretia says:

    What Liz said.
    Only I’m perfectly okay with the tone. It’s hard not to get irritated when someone who isn’t willing to try using a service tells everyone why it “must fail” using iffy logic.

  • I’m not comfortable with this kind of tone and try to avoid it, but I thought that if I were ever going to try it out and see what kind of reaction it got, this would be the place to do it.

    (And now that I’ve seen Robert Scoble’s severed head on Quora Review, I’m a bit less worried that I’ve crossed a line!)

    My irk is this:

    Vivek has a tremendous platform: his TechCrunch distribution gets him in front of millions of users, and his academic credentials give him authority and credibility (maybe not to you guys, but you have some background here). But he starts the article with a half-assed disclaimer “I am not an expert” that let’s him cave later if he is wrong, write a poorly-reasoned piece, but still leverage his enormous pulpit.

    He then makes no effort to make his article even internally consistent. He does none of the background research or anticipate any of the obvious counter arguments, then lays out a blanket insult of all of SV as being clueless dilettantes out of touch with what plays on main street, right after he himself essentially says main street is too dumb to spend time reading, research, writing, and upvoting good content.

    There are good arguments against Quora, but he makes none of them.

  • Vivek Wadhwa’st been at this for awhile. He wanted a presence on Quora (and other places) to build his shaky cred as an ‘expert’ on SV and entrepreneurship in general. But more to cement his pro-India anti-everything else agenda:

    Why do the Silicon Valley elite believe that everyone will flock to a U.S.-based tech site like Quora?

    ..as opposed to a wannabe job-hopping non-tenured UCB professor? With a string of ‘entrepreneurship failures?’ Sorry, had to go there.

    Other than that, consider me a fan of your work. At least in this blog post:

    http://mindtaker.blogspot.com/2011/03/aw-vivek-wadhwa-doesn-like-quora.html

    It’s easy for folks like Scoble & Wadhwa to sit back try to destroy good work. Thanks for writing this post!

    -Drunky

  • Karthick says:

    Mr.Woolfe, I’m a fan. Fantastic critique and hilarious to boot. I had similar thoughts, but no where as eloquent. Thank you for posting this!

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