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 § 2 Comments

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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I don’t use Quora, I play it.

February 14, 2011 § 3 Comments

By: Kartik Ayyar

I have never enjoyed writing.

I’ve never particularly been a heavy user of social networks either.

Yet, over the last year, I’ve written a fair amount on Quora and I’ve become fascinated by Quora despite being mostly immune to the charms of many other web based services.

I found myself asking the question “Why is Quora so addictive?”

How can a mere inanimate internet service empower me to crystallize floating thoughts in my head in a form suitable for writing and make my fingers convert them into answers?
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On Quora, Journalism and Disintermediation

February 10, 2011 § 74 Comments

By: Kim-Mai Cutler

When I turned down my parents’ Tiger Mom-like ambitions in favor of journalism years ago, the technology and media industries were worlds apart.

The best-known tech companies of my parents’ generation were plodding giants. Take Your Daughter to Work Day was kind of like this video of Conan O’Brien visiting Intel. Drab, gray cubicles. Rows of thousands of people staring endlessly into glowing black screens with command-line interfaces. It seemed draining and bureaucratic.

At the time, many news organizations could still afford to have foreign correspondents. I admired reporters like Anthony Shadid, who is writing from Cairo this week with a historical perspective, eloquence and empathy that few in the Western world can match.

Today, the worlds have switched places. Jobs like Shadid’s have all but disappeared. Now reporters are the ones who must stare into screens, hunting the confines of Tweetdeck or Quora for an extra nugget of insight or a quick hit that can meet their pageview goals.

Technologists are the ones who are giving voices to the voiceless and are able to tie people in distant corners of the world together in profound ways. On Instagram, I follow a young woman from Kazakhstan who one day randomly started following me. I see the world through her eyes – what it’s like to stand on the docks by the Caspian Sea, how the snows in Aktau still have yet to recede. I know that she has a long scar on her left-arm. From what? I have no idea. She says, “Sometimes it saves me.”
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Sex, Death, and Anonymity on Quora

February 9, 2011 § 4 Comments

By: Anon User

1. The Price

The price of sex, it turns out, is death.

Four billion years ago, the earliest life forms were born immortal and capable of reproducing alone, without any mating partners. Asexual bacteria, if given infinite food and space, could theoretically continue to reproduce and live forever; they would “continue clonal expansion through [their] progeny indefinitely….we would likely never find a single dead cell in such a culture.” [1]. Asexual bacteria do not gradually get older, become creaky, or die of natural causes; they do not senesce. When these organisms had the planet to themselves, the end of life was either predation or an accident.

Two billion years later, eukaryotes evolved when one bacteria was subsumed into and subjugated by another, resulting in a more metabolically complex organism. About a billion years after that, during the Stenian period, sexual reproduction between two cells arose for the first time [2]; for these lucky eukaryotes, their offspring would be genetically different from them (and from their mating partner), allowing their species to evolve and adapt to changing environments faster than their more chaste competition could.  With sexual reproduction came the first multicellular life, organisms capable of differentiating their cells into specialized functions, allowing them to scale up in both size and capability. All plant and animal life today is descended from these sexual pioneers.
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What Is This, A Cult?

February 8, 2011 § 13 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. « Read the rest of this entry »

Why Quora & Social Media Experts Don’t Mix

February 6, 2011 § 44 Comments

By: James Hritz

As the Quora user base has grown, along with much praise, has come some criticism. Specifically, many critics view Quora as a snobby, clubby, and intellectually elitist place. It seems much of the loudest criticism about Quora and it’s community and moderation policies come from a Twitter ecosystem creature known as the “social media expert/maven.”

If you are even a casual user of Twitter, I am sure you have seen the social media expert more than a few times. The profile looks something like this: Following 20,545, Followed by 20,100, and 10,000+ Tweets. This user’s tweet stream is populated by a steady stream of retweets and tweets of well-publicized articles from publishers like Techcrunch, Scoble, GigaOm, etc.  Up until December, this creature was conspicuously absent from the Quora community.  Before I go on, lets be clear that this is not an attack on those of you who would call yourselves “social media experts.” For reasons I will lay out, these users do play a valuable role in the Twitter ecosystem.
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Q&A of a Q&A’er: I Interview Jae Won Joh

February 6, 2011 § 4 Comments

By: Andrew Cheung

There are a number of people on Quora who make the place what it is.  Yet for their prolific efforts I found that I knew relatively little about themselves.  This is an experiment to learn more.

This week’s subject is Jae Won Joh, Quora’s resident medical expert.  Strap in and turn your Instapaper on, this one’s a doozy. « Read the rest of this entry »