Shame on Business Insider, Gizmodo, et al. for quoting anonymous Quora answer as fact for pageviews!

July 8, 2011 § 19 Comments

By: Michael Sinanian

This blog has discussed Quora’s transformative effect on journalism before, bringing to light its disruptive potential on content commoditization and branding.

But over the fourth of July, a lot of this “news innovation” was effectively tossed out the window. The transgression? Prominent tech blog Silicon Alley Insider ran a story that was entirely derived from an anonymous Quora answer with no attribution what so ever.

Addressing a question about potential uses for Apple’s astronomically large cash hoard, the user wrote a lengthy answer that received over 570 up-votes and a long stream of congratulatory comments. [1]

Without reliable attribution, this answer should not be up-voted so enthusiastically and it certainly shouldn’t be repackaged and resold by the blogosphere as “news analysis.” This should be a lesson for both journalists and Quora users alike: well-worded answers that tell us what we want to hear aren’t necessarily good answers.

Other “respectable” sites also ran this story, including Forbes, Fortune, and Gizmodo, which went as far as to title their story “Is Apple So Far Ahead Because They Use Tech From the Future?”

Such titles are worthy of the term “link-bait” for their pure intention of securing re-tweets and re-posts to drive up page views, regardless of editorial value.

Although a win for Quora, whose content is now apparently so valuable as to be quoted without a shred of doubt by major tech news outlets, this is a sore disappointment for Journalism 2.0.

Silicon Alley Insider and all the other blogs that followed suit in reposting this should be ashamed of themselves. It’s stunts like these that make “blogging” a derogatory term in the face of “real” journalism.

Furthermore, as proud members of the Quora community, we must ask ourselves what’s permissible to up-vote. Sourceless answers like the one discussed may still be correct despite a lack of attribution, but that should be taken into consideration when deciding how to vote or sourcing it for a story.

This approval dilemma has arisen in other ways, too. We’ve all witnessed a highly up-voted answer simply because the content is well-worded or emotionally engaging, despite questionable correctness.

Unfortunately, Quora’s current approval mechanisms don’t have much granularity. We are only provided the blunt instruments of an up-vote, a down-vote, or a meaningless “thank you” note. It’s not possible to simultaneously up-vote for writing style but down-vote for attribution.

Despite such shortcomings, Quora does have a system in place that allows reviewers to specify why egregious answers need improvement in certain areas. Without opening this up to most of the user-base, however, content is still liable to be improperly credited on a wide scale.

For those of us who are enthusiastic users or people who use Quora for journalism, we must be careful. Our actions are these missing granular controls, and we must be cautious in their use.

[1] – The only attribution comes in the form of a few commenters who link to articles from earlier in the year that vaguely go over what the answerer talks about. This does provide some credence to the matter, but not enough for wholesale replication by other news outlets.

[2] – This is cross-posted from a personal Quora post which can be found here:

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