What Is This, A Cult?

February 8, 2011 § 11 Comments

By Mona Nomura 

“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’.

(Bullet points from Adam D’Angelo found via here.)

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.

§ 11 Responses to What Is This, A Cult?

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Thomas Power and Abdul Jaleel K.K, LG Stream. LG Stream said: What is this, a cult? http://j.mp/hDHqGN […]

  • Scot Duke says:

    I don’t think I could have said this any better. I also like Quora, but it does seem to serve no purpose outside the creator’s circle, which is probably what they wanted the site to be. I also see nothing but Tech type questions gaining any traction on the site which also leads one to believe you have to first be in the Tech circle to be accepted. I do get an answer to my questions but usually only from someone else like me who is trying to figure out the purpose of the site.
    I could see Quora really taking off if there was not the feeling that wearing a Bazinga t-shirt was required attire to post a question on the site. Guess time will tell if Quora turns niche or not.

    • Mona Nomura says:

      Hey Scot, thanks for the comment. It’s tough speaking out as part of the opposition camp, so your insights are appreciated.

      The one thing I can say for sure, is I’ve found the method which works for people outside of the inner circle of tech is to not be discouraged and keep participating.

      It’s a bummer when our contributions aren’t acknowledged, but in time they may be. And if they still aren’t, pay no mind — it’s definitely not personal as the people on the Internet don’t know you and they get to know you through the bits we leave online!

      As for Quora itself, I definitely agree that time will tell.

      See you on Quora🙂

  • Isn’t this the same thing people ask about Apple? Sometimes a group of people become such passionate followers of a company, or a product, or a service that it takes cult-like overtones.

    If they, the passionate users (tech or otherwise), find it useful, what’s wrong with it? Yes, it might die some day. On the other hand, it might become so commonplace that nobody notices it.

    • Mona Nomura says:

      Hi Rameez — I don’t find anything wrong with being passionate and loyal to a product. I am all the time.

      The danger is when myopia sets in and there is a lack of empathy. It would be a bummer to see one of the best things about Quora (the community) potentially be their ultimate downfall.

      • Heinel Wong says:

        But what makes a community?

        It is something that a group of people can identify with. Think of it as like observing another culture. Sure, there will always be at least some people who do not understand the nuances, but that doesn’t make the quirks valueless.

        If one’s purpose is to enter a new community, it would help immensely if one does not bring any assumptions about what the community is make up of and any pre-existing notions of how a community’s members should behave.

  • joni says:

    I agree. Quora can be very elitist where power users interact with each other in their little bubble, chuckling at their private jokes, etc. I suppose this is inevitable in any social setting but it does put off some potentially good users who might have contributed value to the site. I did (still do at times) get the feeling that I was more of an outsider peeking into the world of Valley elites than a user of equal footing with other users. (Because in reality, the site thrives on inequality. Each answer is judged and rejudged, adding up to the general worth of the user.)

    Fortunately, the site has already broadened up to include a variety of topics and insightful answers, and has attracted a more diverse group of intelligent people beyond the tech background. The assumption is that everyone is an expert on something and I would love to see how this develops. I personally would want more people in different fields (again not just tech please) speaking up and sharing more. This has to continue if the site is to be successful. Possibly, people of common interests would also form their own little circles in the future and develop their own private jokes. (Someone should make a dissertation on Quora’s social interaction and how it mirrors real world interaction.) It will be interesting to wait and see what happens next.

  • Quora says:

    Quora in West Side Story…

    I am one of those Quora newbies who heard about site from Mashable’s 40+ Things to Watch For in 2011. From the safety of my Tuscan sanctuary, I solicited an invite and signed-up. I likely represent a large portion of potential new users far removed fro…

    • Charlotte says:

      一时兴起,也尝试翻译了下,请指教。1. Design is Persistent Trying设计是持续不断的尝试2. Design is Just Making Things Line up设计是让事情排列整齐(或者说,组织在一起?)3. Design is a Rare Language设计是一种稀有的语言4. Design is what you do when you don’t yet know what you are doing?设计是当你还不知道到底要做什么的时候干的那些事儿(我讨厌翻译……)5. Design is a Nice Way to Say Hello设计是打招呼的好方式6. Design is Plagiarism or Revolution设计是抄袭或者革新7. Design is Something a Programmer Should not do. (?)设计是程序员们不干的活儿8. Design is Crap Until it Turns to Gold设计在变成金子前是垃圾9. Design is knowing that simtlicipy is the ultimate sophistication. Leonardo da Vinci设计就是达芬奇的那句“简洁是最复杂的”10. Design is a Journey of Self-Discovery设计是自我发现的旅程11. Design is Design设计就是设计12. Design is Evil设计是恶魔13. Design is Cmd + N设计是打开新文档(MAC上的CMD+N操作,似乎是这个意思……)14. Design is Inspiration设计是灵感15. Design is Staying up Late设计是熬夜16. Design is Just Owning a Clip Art* Gallery(设计只是图片库的片段? …… 没太看懂)17. Design is Making a Mess and having fun doing it设计是制造混乱,并且这么做充满有趣18. Design is being Able to Translate and Form(设计是能够被解释和构成?主题清晰并且画面构图组织合理?不是很确定……)19. Design is Better Than Orgasms (Is it?)设计比高潮还棒(不是么?)20. Design is loving the ideas that you have to throw away设计是你不得不放弃你喜爱的想法21. Design is Thinking Made Visual设计是构思如何进行视觉表现22. Design is Love设计是爱23. Design is the Most Ubiquitous of all the Arts在所有艺术中,设计是最常见的24. Design is Putting Foucs Where is Matters设计就是关注问题25. Design is Using Helvetica设计就是使用Helvetica字体……26. Design is Destiny in my Hands, Fate in Your Eyes.设计我说了算,怎么看随你27. Design is Colorful Xerox of Your Mind设计是想法的彩色复印机28. Design is about Color and Shapes设计是颜色和形状29. Design is Oldskool & Funky(Oldskool/Funky是两种传说中的街舞风格?似乎非常古老,理解困惑)30. Design is More than Just Free T-Shirts and Beer设计不只是免费T恤衫和啤酒31. Design is the True Work of the Art …设计是真正的艺术工作(画面下:黑色+黄色+白色=爱。有人评论说:在我的世界,黑色+黄色=TAXI。哈哈~)31. Design is all in the Way you Think设计是你思考的全部方式32. Design is Just Layering and Masking设计只是分层和遮掩33. Design is Patience设计就是忍耐34. Design is Random Colors设计是随机的颜色35. Design is Black and Fuckin’ Pink设计是黑色和该死的粉红色36. Design is Fun设计是乐趣37. Design is Knowing When to Stop设计是了解何时该结束38. Design is Retro设计是复古39. Design is Beautiful设计是美的40. Design is a Trend设计是一种趋势41. Design is Dead设计已死

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