What Is This, A Cult?
February 8, 2011 § 13 Comments
“The cool kids and big egos of Silicon Valley are busy colonizing a new social network — and soon you may want to as well” – Daniel Lyons via Newsweek
I’m just gonna come out and say it. Quora is cult-ish.
Now before you Quoreans go all out postal, allow me to back up. In 2008 I stumbled upon a site called FriendFeed I quickly became addicted to. FriendFeed became an integral part of my life once I figured out how to use it, was accepted by the community and my posts received hundreds of LIKEs. So much so, every time people would pick FriendFeed apart and complain how it was hard to use. Or how it was too niche. Or how clique-ish it was, the criticisms felt personal. It would upset me how people just didn’t understand its greatness.
The things Quora power users say to defend Quora? Are the same things I’d say to defend FriendFeed: It’s not my fault you’re new to the site. Why are so many confused about FriendFeed? Using it is, well, common sense. So on and so forth; sound familiar? It’s okay if it doesn’t, I was in denial for a while too. It took almost three years to admit my love affair with an inanimate object — or product to be exact.
Now as much as I loved FriendFeed, my initial reaction to its community was: What is this, a cult? And Quora is very reminiscent of FriendFeed – from how I use the site (people who’ve known me for a while even pointed it out) to crowning a princess (I was known as the queen of FriendFeed haha)
Now you can argue Quora and FriendFeed are different products serving two purposes and yes, I agree. However, Quora and FriendFeed are crowd sourced, community driven products and the fundamental workings are very similar.
- [Quora] answers with more upvotes are ranked higher. FriendFeed’s LIKEs was basically Quora’s upvote, in which posts users LIKEd were more visible throughout the site.
- A vote from a [Quora] user who has written good answers in the past carries more weight (both upvotes and downvotes). FriendFeed’s Best of Day and third party resources such as All Top.
- [Quora] answers written by users who have written good answers in the past will be ranked higher. FriendFeed’s Best of Day and friend of a friend system — the functionalities are similar, in which FoAF would show up in our newsfeeds, making it more visible, thus ‘ranked higher’.
Look. Many have and will continue to add their insights on how Quora can improve. I’m not going to toot that same horn. Instead, I will share my experiences in hopes it sheds different perspective.
1. Quora is hard to understand.
It’s not the product that’s hard to get. It’s the rules and regulations.
Last summer, I heard buzz about Quora and like every good early adopter, joined and dove right in. I quickly found out: I was doing it wrong. Several of my answers were immediately down voted with scolding commentary: “This should be x.” and “You should do x.” — including two cents from a founder.
I Tweeted my experience and received several responses defending said founder’s actions. “He’s a nice guy. We’re friends. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend you.” and “Well you have to remember how the site should be used.”
I’m sorry – well not really – but before this incident I had no idea what Quora was, who was behind it and why it was such a darling of tech. I was just using the site. But more so, if the founders have a vision, and users must adhere to Quora’s mission statement, why aren’t the guidelines and expectations communicated during the on-boarding process?
2. The Quora army is scary.
Because the guidelines are unclear, when I became active again in late December, I used the site how I would any social network. I guess I was doing it wrong again but this time instead of the founder, employees and Quora power users educated me on how to use the site.
Apparently, one of the biggest offenses on Quora is being too active. Too much participation is frowned upon by the Quora community (The Robert Scoble debacle.) Humor or snark are also asking for instant ostracizing for devaluing the quality of the site. Hold back on chatter. Socialize elsewhere. Comments aren’t for banter, etc., etc., …unless of course, you are a part of the Quora inner circle. As a certified Quorean, power users / administrators pardon your faux-pas — very much like the early FriendFeed days.
Frankly, unless a person is glued to the site, a part of the Quorean community or immersed in the tech bubble, there is no way someone using it for the first time can just ‘figure it out’.
However, unlike FriendFeed, Quora’s community is almost condescending. Or as Mat advised:
3. Quora’s value proposition is unclear to the public
What is Quora, exactly? A blogging platform? A Wikipedia? A community? Social network? Q&A site?
Don’t get it twisted, I’m not knocking Quora. Quora is one of the few, if not the only public forum where we (the little people) can interact with and get answers straight from founders, C-level execs or even the designers of these monster tech brands. In that respect, I am in awe and point my nerd friends to Quora for answers.
On the flipside, the site is irrelevant to people outside of tech.
Because the majority of people answering questions are in tech, you find answers to regular questions like “Why do people travel?” with answers like “There is nothing like dancing with world leaders at the Google party.”
Q: “My girlfriend says that she will break up with me unless I stop using Quora, what should I do?”
A: “Break up with her first.”
Why would anyone outside of tech find those answers helpful?
Quora is one of the best instances of creating a problem the masses doesn’t have (where can we find the best opinion based answers based on experiences?) and providing a solution (by Quora approved crowd sourcing), it is still a playground where Silicon Valley insiders like to hang out and flex their digital muscles.
See? Quora is a (tech) cult.