Forget about Facebook, Google. Start fearing Quora.

March 23, 2011 § 8 Comments

By: Dan Kaplan

“Quora will be the most valuable company produced post 2005.”
-Keith Rabois, COO of Square.

In an age when Zynga and Groupon (both founded after 2005) have rocketed their ways to multi-billion dollar valuations within relative bats of an eye, Keith Rabois’s bold prediction, captured forever in the databanks of the tweetstream, may sound like the spasms of a deranged mind.

Quora? More valuable than Zynga’s Social Gaming Colossus or Groupon’s Globespanning Juggernaut of Daily Deals? A fucking Q&A site?

Yes.

Compared to Zynga and Groupon, Quora’s path to maniac glory will not be as shit-your-pants fast, nor will it be as clear a ride. But as the dust from the coming age of the internet settles, Marc Pincus and Andrew Mason will look upon Quora from their billionaires’ thrones and they, too, shall despoil their underwear in awe.

Quora, you see, is not exactly what it seems.

Just as Foursquare is actually a method of collecting data on your real-world movements masquerading as a check-in game, Quora is actually a database of human knowledge and experience that happens to look like Q&A. The interface is just the mechanism Rebekah Cox and her team have designed to convince users to pour the contents of their brains into the cloud and convince other users to rank them. Should the company manage to reach beyond Silicon Valley, delve broadly and deeply into brains in every vertical and figure out how to accurately evaluate the quality of their contents, Quora will make the mass sale of virtual goods and daily deals look like buckets of chilled piss.

Commentators often reference Wikipedia as Quora’s closest analog, but they are missing the point. Quora’s team is not trying to build a better Wikipedia. They are trying to build a better Google.

Ah, how the mighty face disruption. Consider an internet on which the best answers to the majority of our queries come not from the vast, increasingly noisy expanses of the world wide web but from the concentrated knowledge and experience of its most articlulate experts. Here, you no longer filter through 10 blue links (or hundreds) to find what you seek; you simply input your query and process the top response. Should you find yourself asking a question no one has asked before, you merely add it to the stream, where it makes its way to the people who can answer it best.

As Google’s algorithms shudder under the weight of spam and SEO, this is the future Quora seems poised to build. In this light, Keith Rabois’ seemingly insane comment about Quora’s value is actually quite far from insane. While Google tweaks its math and tries to figure out how to beat Facebook, Quora is going about its business, slowly building a compelling alternative.

So forget Bing. Forget Blekko. Forget every other “Google killer” you’ve ever seen. In a handful of years, it will be Quora standing over the body, dagger in hand, the blood of Google dripping slowly from the blade.

Sometimes The Medium Is Indeed The Massage

March 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

By Gene Linetsky

…The book itself is 160 pages in length and composed in an experimental, collage style with text superimposed on visual elements and vice versa. Some pages are printed backwards and are meant to be read in a mirror. Some are intentionally left blank. Most contain photographs and images both modern and historic, juxtaposed in startling ways...
The Medium Is the Massage (from Wikipedia)

To be influential, a text doesn’t need to be coherent, well-written, grammatically correct, or even fully comprehensible. The recent post by a Quora newcomer (referenced here earlier) is one example. The US Constitution is another. Pretty much any religious text would be in that category, too.

The original is arguably TL;DR. But its voice captures the raw emotions — and perhaps confusions — that must be shared by many recent Quorans.

Here’s my attempt to condense it, paragraph by paragraph. How many of these statements can you honestly disagree with?

P1. Quora is founded by a notable guy, has an entry in Wikipedia, and is hyped as a big deal.
P2. I am an assistant professor of social media and feel that I represent a large group of new users.
P3. Quora is not a repository of knowledge. Rather, it’s a smug elitist’s self-promotional playground.
P4. This turns me off.
P5. Robert Scoble changed his opinion on Quora from positive to negative, which prompted a retort from Dan Kaplan, which means that Quora is full of contradictions.
P6. Quora opened the floodgates, got scared of people bringing in their massive followings, and closed them.
P7. Quora early adopters don’t like Quora newcomers. Not wise.
P8. Quora admins screwed up. They and the early adopters weren’t prepared for the newcomers.
P9. Quora moderation methodology feels like snubbing.
P10. My own initial experience on Quora was not good.
P11. Wit is exalted, humor is discouraged.
P12. I like humor better.
P13. PeopleRank doesn’t seem to account for irony, wit, or humor. And the overemphasis on grammar is unfortunate.
P14. Elitism is the enemy of personality and community-building.
P15. Lengthy answers are encouraged, yet isn’t brevity a virtue?
P16. Quora’s ranking algorithms are suspect.
P17. Editing should be more about substance and less about form.
P18. Editing on Quora seems to be inconsistent and there’s no commonly accepted style guide.
P19. Molly McHugh has something to say about Quora vis-a-vis social media insiders.
P20. There are notables, principals, professionals, and other educated and accomplished people on Quora, but mostly it’s all about technology.
P21. “Social media” is not well appreciated.
P22. Quora is similar to other social media platforms but surpasses their limits.
P23. Quora is closer to Wikipedia than Facebook or Twitter.
P24. Quora is too young to be an alternative to Wikipedia, and with its current attitude toward newcomers, it will have a hard time.
P25. I overcame my first impressions and stayed.
P26. My students feel that they are not eloquent enough for Quora.
P27. There are many choices in new media. Quora is just too much work.
P28. I wish more Quorans were like Marc Bodnick. He told me that the Quora Review is not affiliated with Quora. Yishan Wong ignored my messages. I thought that the Quora Review is the public forum of Quora and expected that my contribution to the democratic debate would be of interest.

Some Problems Recently Observed by a Quora Newbie

March 9, 2011 § 6 Comments

I am moreover inclined to be concise when I reflect on the constant occupation of the citizens in public and private affairs, so that in their few leisure moments they may read and understand as much as possible.
– Vitruvius

Recently, a new Quora user wrote about her on-boarding experience in a post on Quora and subsequently asked the Editor to publish the piece on The Quora Review as well. Although the piece was ultimately not published, the user did bring up some interesting points. The Editor asked me to provide a shorter summary of the issues raised in the original post. You can find the original post here.

The user had initially anticipated finding a Q&A forum and, upon arrival, encountered a “vast repository of knowledge created by an intelligent eclectic mix of individuals,” capable of providing “deeper analyses and interpretation of issues.” However, a cursory interactive experience revealed some flaws worth examining:

  1. Quora professes a commitment toward civil discourse, yet its upvote system and the cliquishness of its “old users” readily rewards sensationalistic language and streamlines the cyber-bullying process, hurling vitriol at an often arbitrary chosen “enemy of the mob” (e.g. Dan Kaplan’s virtual lynching of Robert Scoble).
  2. Though self-promotion is frowned up on by the Quora Collective, the platform itself has benefited quite a few who have gamed the system through self-promotion. This sends a mixed message to those who are using a variety of tools to build their digital social presence.  Is the off-label usage of Quora encouraged or discouraged? What is the prescriptive usage of Quora even defined as? It is hard to decipher.
  3. Upvotes are the de facto currency on Quora. Opening up the membership means that members who have “earned social currency” outside of Quora are able to import their “social wealth,” shattering the myth of meritocracy held dear by the active Quora contribution base. This inevitably causes conflict between “old users” and “new users.”
  4. On the other end of the “new users” spectrum, some users find it hard to accumulate social currency on Quora for the following reasons:
    • unfamiliarity with UI
    • unfamiliarity with community contribution guidelines
    • unfamiliarity with or intimidation by the contribution quality expectations
    • intimidation by the perceived social exclusivity among “old users”
  5. Failure to integrate new users. It is easy to see how Quora may risk “losing some of tomorrow’s wheat along with today’s chaff.”
  6. Admins and Reviewers, though acting in good faith for the most part, take a very reactive approach. A more proactive approach in addressing growth would have both encouraged the “old users” to be more civil and accommodating towards “new users” and offered new members a less bumpy introductory experience to Quora.

The user observed that the persistence of these issues means integrating into the Quora community will continue to be daunting to many new users. Failing to address these concerns may be what keeps Quora in the “white-hot” startup dream, never realizing the “game-changer” status that it strives for.

Are all questions equal everywhere?

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Net Jacobsson

As Quora is rapidly growing out of its Silicon Valley nest and is spreading its wings across the world, the question is: How will Quora deal with internationalization? Having experienced facebook’s internationalization efforts at first hand, I am intrigued by what approach Quora will take when the right time comes. After all Quora is a very different animal than Facebook.

Anybody who has been involved in internationalization efforts knows that it stretches far beyond than just translating a bunch of strings into a new language. It is said that, every translations is a new interpretation, but I wonder, is every question equal everywhere?

Assuming that Quora will crowd source the translation in a similar way to facebook , I dont’ think that the translation in itself is going to be much of an issue. I think the question the questions of identity and cultural sensitivity is going to be more challenging. That is, if Quora wants to stay close to it current identity.

Will Quora suffer from multiple personality disorder?

While Quora currently is perceived as an almost elitistic-like Q&A site colored by what is important in Silicon Valley , i.e. focused on  technology, venture capital, startup gossip and entrepreneurism. I can’t help to wonder if that “identity” is scaleable ? And even if it is, is that something that Quora could and should strive to guide & maintain at any price? Will Quora embrace and encourage multiple identities throughout different markets even if their nature might be very different from its original identity ? How will Quora deal with turning into a site where the questions and answers will be centered around political views and religious orientations rather than technology, startups and venture capital ? How will Quora deal with two politically opposed groups lashing out against each other in a fierce Q & A battle in Iran? Monitoring and managing the active Quora community members to ensure that they uphold and follow Quora HQ policy can be tricky. One the one hand, you’d like the Quora community to set the tone and give them “editorial” freedom within reasonable limits. On the other hand, what if that goes out of hand in a direction contrary to Quora’s original vision? Is that good or bad? It begs the question: Will Quora be able to live with multiple “personalities” ?

How will Quora deal with cultural sensitivity?

Are all questions equal in every country and region? What can you ask where? Are there questions that are off limits in certain regions for political, religious or cultural reasons ? If so, how would the Quora community deal with them?  What is irony in Bahrain and what is offensive in Poland? What is a sarcastic question in Italy and what constitutes a leading question in Russia? When does a question become antisemitic in Germany and racist in France? Can you ask how to make a Cheese burger in Israel, or where to find a bar in Saudi Arabia? Would it be offensive to ask where to buy contraception in Italy? Moreover, who will monitor the editors to ensure that the strike the “right” balance?

How will Quora deal with privacy and data protection in different countries?

If you’ve ever been involved in growing a company internationally, you know that it will come sooner rather than later. The privacy backlash. The data protection headaches. Every country has their own issue with privacy and data protection and Quora will have to comply with local laws and regulations  in each and every market they operate in. The question is, can a question be illegal in certain countries? Likewise, can an answer be illegal in some countries?  What will Quora do if it gets a request from the FBI via a foreign government to share the private data on one of its citizens for having asked “sensitive” questions? And if so, how will Quora protects its users from getting into trouble? These are just a handful of questions that comes to my mind when thinking about what challenges Quora might face with regards to internationalization.

The mother of all questions is: How will Quora approach internationalization?

Politicians at the Gates

March 4, 2011 § 4 Comments

By: Craig Montuori

Quora is slowly becoming popular with political professionals who have fundamentally different incentives than the average early Quora user. The systems built around rewarding subject matter expertise are misaligned for handling the large numbers of politicos looming in Quora’s future. Unlike many other fields, there is no ‘measure of correctness’ in politics; there is only a measure of public support. Quora faces a future in which key political figures or their lieutenants join Quora and treat it as another front in their political struggle, while small groups invested in a specific political ideology game the system, promoting their ideas and hiding and discrediting the opposition’s ideas.

Check the comments on some popular politician’s Facebook fan page. When those politicians arrive on Quora, many of those fans will follow, immediately upvoting the politician’s most banal pieces to ‘show support.’ This level of noise will distort the value of answer upvotes even with People Rank, since most people behave differently with political matters compared to almost everything else. For example, Scoble’s followers almost automatically upvoted his earlier answers, never noticing others, which devalued questions as an ‘exceptional resource’ by distorting the value of the other answers.

A related problem is the difference between Quora ‘tech CEOs’ dealing with public criticism and how equivalent political figures deal with it. Criticism is rarely allowed for long on politicians’ fan pages, as proved by the quick disappearance of comments blasting Sarah Palin. On Quora, some noted that Rick Warren deleted unfavorable comments on his Quora answer. As a public figure relying on his persona and fandom for his standing in the world, even polite criticism is a threat. However understandable the reaction, it violates the founders’ vision of creating quality resources through vigorous debate.

Small, organized groups based on ideology have an incentive to hide answers written from an opposing ideology, similar to Christopher Lin’s proposed quality control mechanism, based on having a group of users agreeing to mass downvote answers that don’t meet the standards expected of Quora. Reverting ideological groups’ work would be a constant drain on the admins and reviewers, and under current systems, they would have to respond to these political groups by making many targeted answers uncollapsible, resulting in lower quality results for all users.

Quora should highlight high-quality contributions not a favored party line. PageRank will help Quora adapt to political activity, but it assumes a certain type of rational behavior that is less common outside of the Silicon Valley type. Instead, Quora needs an ‘ideological’ rating for users beyond their ‘quality’ rating through PageRank. Users that consistently upvote answers in the political space in cliques or whenever a specific user adds an answer are probably voting for ideological reasons. People who quickly upvote or downvote a political answer are more likely to be reacting based on ideology than quality.

People will react according to their incentives, and the incentives for politically motivated individuals are different from groups currently on Quora. There is no easy solution for this systemic problem, but the politicians are coming; Quora should be ready for them.

Why Quora Beats Blogging

March 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

By: J.C. Hewitt

Is she blogging, or answering a question on Quora?

Once upon a time, blogging was the cool thing to do on the internet. Now, the space has become saturated. Self-help books about how to make millions of dollars with a blog are now common.

I’ve made most of my money throughout my professional life by writing on the internet; both for people and for the always-lovable search engine spiders. I’ve blogged in various incarnations since about 2001, when Newspro was the closest thing that anyone had to WordPress.

Of the many blogs that I’ve created, nurtured, neglected, and abandoned, few of them have actually turned into anything close to an asset that appreciated over time. Part of that could be blamed on my lack of focus. I’m not one of those people passionate about car insurance, wine, iPhones, or other products that other people like to shell out a lot of money for. I’d rather write sprawling essays and poetry.

Luckily, Quora is a much simpler and superior platform for publishing compared to WordPress, Blogger, or any of the many forerunners.

The Eyeball Hunt

The largest problem for any new publisher to tackle has always been and will continue to be distribution. With so many people around the world competing for traffic, it’s not easy to attract the people that you want to. Twitter works better than word-of-mouth or other social groups, but it’s still challenging to induce even people who have followed you for months or years to click through to your posts.

WordPress and Blogger try to use the tagging system, and StumbleUpon does something similar to foster surfing behavior among bloggers. But that traffic isn’t as “sticky” as writers tend to want it to be.

Quora has taken a hybrid approach between Twitter, Facebook, and a blogging platform. You can follow topics (similar to tags) and people at the same time. People more interested in personalities can hone in on people they want to follow. People just interested in the best answers to a topic can do the reverse.

PeopleRank Has Value

PeopleRank may not be worth much at the moment. And in fact, it’s as speculative-grade as Quora stock is right now. A company with no revenue albeit with founders that have a great track record and a relatively small number of users does not make for a certain future juggernaut.

However, it’s at least something of an alternative currency that Quora can pay out to its users for creating content. That’s not something that other publishing platforms really offer right now. It’s a classic craigslist scam to offer a writer pay for “exposure,” but Quora actually delivers on its promise. If you produce quality content, your answers pop up to the top of the page. Your votes carry more weight.

And if you can’t figure out how to turn that kind of power into wealth (if you want it), then you haven’t thought much about it.

Natural Tendencies Pump Your Score on Quora

The market tends to punish bloggers who follow their heart. If you write about whatever you’re thinking, readers tend to flee. Throughout history, there’s a reason why publications with a cultivated voice (like the New Yorker) or a tight subject matter (like Vogue) tend to endure. Even generalist publications are separated into sections and manned by specialists (like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal).

On Quora, however, the system expressly rewards dilettantes. Most of my answers on Quora are related to economics, finance, and politics. But upvotes on silly answers like “What are some hobbies that rich children enjoy?” cross-subsidize my answers on unrelated topics.

Because of the structure of the system, you’re unlikely to lose followers by switching topics often. Quora’s stated goal is to extract as much knowledge as possible and to put it on the web, so they don’t want to dissuade entrants by requiring some kind of formal, ex-Quora expertise to boost ranking. Quora only boosts you for what you do on Quora, encouraging as much content creation as possible within the system.

You can write whatever the hell you feel like on Quora, and as long as it’s good, you eke out benefits. That beats blogging to a small audience any time.

Thinking About the Long Term

Blogs can outlive their purpose, as I’ve discovered time and again. Friendships dwindle. You can move across the country or the world. You can lose interest in old hobbies. But Quora is a network that at least has enough money that Charlie Cheever could cook a breakfast of poached wild Chilean sea bass on a fire ignited by a stack of $100 bills every day for a couple years and still keep the servers running for a while.

If a blog fails to achieve traction or the author loses interest after a year or two, the net benefit is generally around zero, minus any experience and connections accrued through the writing process. On Quora, there’s no cap (yet) to PeopleRank. The more up-votes that you garner on Quora, the more attention that you can capture relative to new-comers on well-trafficked topics.

If you stick around, your profile on Quora might wind up being worth something.

Until the next big thing, that is.

Cleaning up my Quora feed: experimenting with unfollowing all topics

February 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

By: Daniel Shi
A while back, I decided to clean up the clutter that I was starting to see in my Quora feed. Quora was something that I had grown incredibly addicted to when I first joined at the end of summer last year. But in recent months, the deluge of new users had started to dilute my experience.


I ended up trying an experiment: I would unfollow all topics. I got the idea from a post by June Lin. Usually, my stream on Quora was a mix of new activity on the topics that I followed (“China” and “Startups” I think were the most active) and the people that I followed. I would be cutting off all of the updates that would be coming in from the topics I followed.

When I was clicking thru and unfollowing more far flung topics, it was not a big deal. But when I started unfollowing the topics that I had grown attached to, I hesitated. Did I really want to unfollow “China”, “Venture Capital”, “Startups”, and “Christianity”? These were really great sources of information and stories for me. I was invested in them. But, in the end, click the unfollow button I did. Even those great discussion streams were starting to get a lot of traffic that I did not find particularly useful.

After about 2 weeks of using Quora, I started to notice a few things:

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