Lofty Goals: The Quora Review as Quora’s Fourth Estate

April 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

By: Michael Sinanian

It was in 2006 when Facebook had registered its 12 millionth member, rolled out the controversial news feed and launched its official development platform. That was also when Justin Smith decided to found his “Inside Facebook” blog, the first news site dedicated solely to tracking the social web’s most prodigious product and business.

Will The Quora Review (TQR) spawn the same string of daily analytical pieces, research reports and even conferences that Inside Facebook did for their patron company? At the time of Inside’s debut, Facebook had just become a platform, a world unto itself, which made a third-party dedicated news site a viable enterprise.

Quora has not yet become that type of all-encompassing platform (and it may never be), but its service is so enticing that it has already spawned TQR. Today we ask: why, and ultimately for what?

A fair amount of TQR’s posts have thus far covered Quora as a technology and a business, not too unlike Inside Facebook. Attempting to answer questions about the aforementioned “platformization” is something we can reasonably infer about TQR’s coverage trajectory. “Will Quora’s monetization plans include advertising or premium subscription features,” are sure to follow the spate of articles about how Quora “is Google” or “isn’t Wikipedia.”

As you may have already realized, answering questions (even about itself) is Quora’s raison d’etre, so for what purpose would we frequent a site like TQR? Surely we could satisfy our craving for Quora news, analysis, events, corporate developments, and product innovations from within the site itself!

Yes, and no. It was Edmund Burke who famously labeled the Press the “fourth estate” of civil society, and in this same manner, we must examine TQR as the fourth estate of Quora’s Internet society (or “information community,” if you prefer).

First, we must come to recognize Quora as more than just a social web product. It is more akin to a 21st-century version of Enlightenment-era intellectual salons whose conversations weren’t as straightforward as question-and-answer. Indeed, reputations rested on more than just “who got things right,” but also certain political leanings and affiliations. In this sense, Quora is no different. In its current startup-focused orientation, many venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will positively answer questions about their vested interests while avoiding those that could leave more scathing marks. That’s just one example, but many abound, and so like all other communities, Quora’s stands to benefit from impartial journalistic coverage operating outside the scope of its “government.”

It might not be glaringly apparent to us now, but eventually Quora, like all other societies, will have its fair share of internal politics, agendas, opinions, and influences: hallmark maladies of a boisterous community that could incentivize power-grabs through placation of the society and its members. The French Revolution, after all, was indebted to quite a few of those salons!

In stark contrast to dedicated business/product sites like Inside, and what TQR has been up till now, I’d like to bring to light The Daily Dot, a recently founded media startup that aims to be the “hometown newspaper of the Internet.” Their angle isn’t tech news; it’s the community of people that call the Internet their home, that sort of inhabit the vast corners of the Net.

In this manner, they want to cover the Internet symbiotically, in the way that a daily town newspaper covers their community, benefitting their local readers through their coverage while profiting from ads or subscriptions.

As Quora’s user and topic-base expands, TQR should certainly incorporate this take on coverage if it is to best serve the needs of this specific information community. There will certainly be times when users forego asking a question on Quora about Quora to instead check “the official newspaper of Quradom.”

Take for example the recent “Answer Improvements” development. While this could be discussed and debated within Quora (and it is, through a near-unanimously positive comments thread), wouldn’t a third-party forum for discussion be more appropriate? TQR could offer that type of outlet, external to the patron site’s own administrative designs and wishes. We are the community after all, and TQR can be our impassioned voice of criticism and reason.

In the end, Quora’s product versatility could easily support discussions about these internal issues, but being a community newspaper has the legitimacy of being the fourth-estate, the great moderator. That alone makes TQR more valuable. As such, this site should embody the fourth-estate principle and provide coverage that lives up to such integrity, if only because Quora itself is a community, a society of sorts. In the vein of Inside Facebook, there should of course be plenty of coverage about Quora as a product and business; its own vitality depends on it. But we’ll also gather around TQR to discuss the community, the everlasting fabric of Quora that makes it all worthwhile: the curious people, the probing questions, the scurrying users who auto-curate, who debate. We’ll be with them.

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