Foraging on Quora: Making the site better for sharks, microplankton, penguins, sea turtles, bumblebees, albatrosses, spider monkeys, butterflies, honey bees, amoebae, and fruit flies

July 28, 2011 § 12 Comments

By: Edwin Kite

Disclaimer: I’m just a grad student in an unrelated field.

This is about information consumption on Quora. I won’t say much about the site’s social side.

People forage for information on Quora. It’s different from StackOverflow, where people dip in, and Wikipedia, with its sterile content. Foraging on Quora is more rewarding, because the quality of the thinking is occasionally very high. Foraging is structured by Quora’s feed – adjacent entries in the feed can lead down very different roads. The feed is tightly personalized, with a little randomness thrown in. Users who follow the feed’s cues will diffuse around Quora. Occasionally they will stumble into a new area. There is a natural length scale to their movements: the range of the people and topics they follow, because that’s what sets the breadth of their feed. This is like Brownian diffusion.

As an alternative, consider the albatross.

Albatrosses are long range ocean foragers. They are big – the biggest living thing that flies. So big you can strap a GPS receiver and a satellite transponder to one, and it barely notices. The data show [1] that the albatrosses do take many little hops, like Brownian motion. But occasionally they will take a bigger hop. And rarely, they will fly to the other side of the world in a straight line. In fact:-

where l is the length of the foraging flight, and P(l) is the probability that the hop will be that long.

This scale-free pattern (including the exponent -2) has since been found in sharks, microplankton, penguins, sea turtles, bumblebees, spider monkeys, butterflies, honey bees, fruit flies, and amoebae [2,3]. This is called a Lévy flight.

Lévy flights with exponent -2 are optimal for locating resources [4] when those resources are -

  • Randomly distributed
  • Sparse
  • Once visited, are not depleted, but remain targets for future searches (like a person, or a topic)

Sounds like Quora. By manipulating the environment, exponents between -3 and  -1 can be produced in ecological simulations. However, including a “crowding” effect (evaporative cooling?) does not affect the -2 exponent, at least not in mussels [5].

For a foraging Quora user, distant topics and users on the graph are also

  • Diverse
  • Rapidly changing
  • Altered by the presence of other foragers

Much of the interesting content is coming from people who pop up, write a few dozen excellent answers, and then either leave or start producing mediocre content. This makes the system dynamic. To find these nuggets in your feed, you need to rove far and fast.

It’s unreasonable for users to apply Lévy flight behaviour themselves.  This is because Quora is a murky fog of information, not a savanna. The “sightlines” are short, intentionally so, so users have to be tenacious and read many two-line answer previews before they find a truly interesting answer. To bring Lévy flight behaviour to Quora, the company would have to take the lead, by changing the feed.

Brownian motion makes sense for “campfire” social networks, and for Wikipedia. The kind of people who could make Quora great are allergic to sameness and want intellectual challenge. They need Lévy flights.

What would a Lévy-flight personalization system look like?

  1. Detect novelty-starved behaviour.
  2. Add a Lévy-flight component to that user’s feed. This is not just randomness, because increasing distance from the user’s preferences will always decrease P(l).
  3. Keep tabs on each user’s revealed preferences. Some will treat Quora mainly as a social network – keep “campfire” personalization for them. Some are foragers. Some will be in between. I guess the comments/PM ratio could be a tracer of this.
  4. Openness to experience is one of the Big Five personality traits, so the power-law exponent could be adjusted based on overall assessed openness.

Finally, all Lévy flights are super-diffusive – the mean-squared distance from the origin increases nonlinearly with time. In contrast, Brownian motion gives linear growth in mean-squared distance. Quora’s collection of questions and answers is growing faster than the diffusion of high-quality users away from their origin points. The resulting isolation is demoralizing. Celebrities, for example, are encircled by baying fans and rarely meet another celebrity. Lévy flights can fight this.

TL;DR: Quora’s feed favors campfire behaviour over foraging, which is bad for some users. Adding a scale-free factor would help Quora retain novelty-seeking users.

References

[1] Viswanathn et al., “Lévy flight search patterns of wandering albatrosses,”  Nature, 1996. (The Lévy-flight interpretation has been disputed, e.g. by Edwards et al., Nature, 2007. Everyone agrees, however, that most animal foraging has scale-free aspects and is not just Brownian, which is enough here.)

[2] Reynolds & Rhodes, “The Lévy flight paradigm: random search patterns and mechanisms,” Ecology, 2009

[3] Sims et al., “Scaling laws of marine predator search behaviour,” Nature, 2008.

[4] Viswanathan et al., “Optimizing the success of random searches,” Nature, 1999

[5] de Jager et al., “Lévy Walks Evolve Through Interaction Between Movement and Environmental Complexity,” Science, 2011.

(PM me if you can’t get hold of journal articles).

§ 12 Responses to Foraging on Quora: Making the site better for sharks, microplankton, penguins, sea turtles, bumblebees, albatrosses, spider monkeys, butterflies, honey bees, amoebae, and fruit flies

  • Gene Linetsky says:

    What a great classification of sites (including Quora). Now I can apply Wikipedia to a paper cut when I run out of Band-Aid.

  • Why didn’t you repost this on Quora? All writers here do so.

    • Sayua says:

      one day electricity would be as cheap as air. Should I Just push Clean Moble Electrical Power Plants. It is A desgim that can be guaged as to the benefits and cost savings. No Emissions, No Fossil Fuels Needed and will be Cheap electrical Power World wide. We can start this in FL. The BirthPlace of Recycling Electricity.I know you don’t know What that Means Because We are All Waiting on Someone to tell us something We get off hand. These systems and methods are the natural evolution of the Electrical Theory. Only the Solution needs Evaluation. Nuke, Coal, Oil and Gas are the competitors. Adapting fossil fuel transportation systems will be cheap because you won’t need them anymore. To change How Energy is Produced around the Globe can start here. The Science and math are good the only thing is to learn how to make a business out of the Electrical Theory of Our Time Re-Use The Electron . Regards

  • Quora says:

    Disclaimer: I’m just a grad student in an unrelated field…….

    Disclaimer: I’m just a grad student in an unrelated field.   This is about information consumption on Quora. I won’t say much about the site’s social side.   People forage for information on Quora. It’s different from StackOverflow, where people dip in…

  • [...] of Venkatesh's concern regarding parameters and power laws: Edwin Kite's post at http://quorareview.com/2011/07/2… might have some useful resourcesAlex K. Chen • 1:25pmView All 7 CommentsCannot add comment at [...]

  • 027Go.Net says:

    I knnow this web site gives quality based articles or reviews and additional material, is thbere any
    other website wjich provides such data in quality?

  • Simply desire to say your article is as surprising.

    The clearness to your submit is just spectacular
    and i can suppose you are knowledgeable on this subject.
    Well along with your permission let me to take hold of your feed to stay up to
    date with approaching post. Thank you a million and
    please continue the enjoyable work.

  • The Sims four is the highly predicted lifestyle simulation sport that lets you
    perform with life like never just before. Develop new Sims
    with intelligence and emotion, whose every single
    motion is informed and affected by their interactions and emotional states.
    Expertise all new intuitive and enjoyable inventive resources.

    Sculpt your Sims in Generate A Sim and build distinctive
    homes with the tactile area-based Develop Manner.

    Management the thoughts, entire body, and coronary heart of your Sims with dynamic,
    emotion-wealthy gameplay, and bring your tales to daily life.

  • sims 4 says:

    If necessary, use some additional paste to seal any loose edges.
    There is no limit to the designs and things you can make with paper mache,
    everything from pinata’s to masks, heads, baskets, and more.
    The wallpapers you choose should reflect your personality, to best describe your tastes and preferences.

  • This will prevent the wire from sticking into your gums and
    a very painful Halloween night. If your size makes it
    difficult to try on costumes in the store if you’re
    lucky enough to find them, you’ll be happy to know that the plus size revolution has reached the online costumers.
    The Louvre is one of the world’s most-visited museums and it’s
    easy to see why as you walk the halls examining artefacts from
    the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, which saw a major expansion of the site, connecting
    it to the palaces and halls that encompass The Louvre todayof
    today’s Louvre].

  • Hello I am so delighted I found your weblog, I really found you
    by mistake, while I was researching on Bing for something else,
    Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say cheers for a remarkable post and a all
    round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to
    look over it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it
    and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please do
    keep up the excellent job.

  • runner says:

    Hello my family member! I wish to say that this post is awesome, nice written and come with almost all vital
    infos. I would like to peer extra posts like this .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Foraging on Quora: Making the site better for sharks, microplankton, penguins, sea turtles, bumblebees, albatrosses, spider monkeys, butterflies, honey bees, amoebae, and fruit flies at The Quora Review.

meta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers

%d bloggers like this: