Achieving Question Success: Results from an Accidental Experiment

October 5, 2011 § 3 Comments

By: Michael Sinanian

How you usher a question into existence on Quora can make or break the success of that potential lifelong resource. At this point in Quora’s development, it’s still critical to make sure a question is asked at just the right time, assigned enough relevant topics and directed to the right people to answer it. These steps are absolutely necessary to ensure that question gets the best possible exposure (and thus answers) it could ever hope to receive.

I recently saw the biggest example of this in my own use last week when I asked the question: Why is it seemingly more difficult to remember things from before 3-5 years of age?

Within just a few days, the question had become a Best Source and had the following stats:

  • over 30 followers
  • 20,165 topic followers
  • 9 topics

It also got a few really good answers, probably the best you could get short of walking up to a university researcher studying the topic and unabashedly asking them. I know this because I made my friend ask their UCLA neuroscience professor the same question at office hours and didn’t receive anything conflicting or all too different from the Quora page.

But what was it about this particular question that made it succeed?

It turns out that the whole scenario was an accidental experiment of sorts. Unbeknownst to me, there was a similar question already around entitled: Why can’t most people remember things from their infancy?

I’ve since redirected that question to the one I asked since mine had become such a hit (so you can’t visit it anymore), but I took a screenshot right before to prove my point here:

In the few months it had been around (opposed to just days compared to my question), the page had the following stats:

  • 983 topic followers
  • 3 topics

So, what does the data reveal?

In short, it absolutely confirms the advice mentioned in Marc Bodnick’s answer to Quora User FAQs: What can I do to aggressively market my Quora question? What can I do to bring an old question back to life?

To rehash that and add a little bit of my own advice…

You need to absolutely do the following to make sure a Quora question receives due attention:

  1. add lots of relevant topics; stretch the relevancy as far as you can without irking admins and reviewers
  2. ask the right people to answer; if you find that perfect person to answer a question, they’ll make it a standout page and it’ll attract even more traffic (not to mention providing a useful answer to begin with). Seek active users with relevant expertise; the new Ask-to-Answer improvements make this a lot easier. In the case of this question, I took the time to ask active psychologists and neuroscientists on the site who had already answered several questions in their fields. Bonus points for asking users that are followed by influential Quora Elite.
  3. cross paths with influential users; if you see some influential users on the site (lots of followers, lots of mentions, etc) voting or following in areas relevant to your question, somehow indirectly grab their attention. the mere act of them following or voting on your question page will create a huge cascade of traffic.

#3 is especially complicated, but there’s definitely a formula to it. For example, to “cross paths” with an influential user, consider the following scenario. In the case of this Human Memory question, I’ll hold off on asking till I see someone who works at Quora (they all have lots of followers) start voting and/or following questions in that topic or related topics (like Psychology, Neuroscience, etc), then I’ll pose my question at that moment. Odds are, they’ll see it, and since their interest is already currently piqued, they’ll be more inclined to follow or ask others to answer it.

Yes, I really do take those extra steps. I don’t care if you need to jot down questions in a note file and save them for a month or two: timing is everything. I did this for the question at hand and it worked wonders. I’ve simply had too many questions miss their crucial opportunity window, going unseen and unanswered because of such shortsightedness.

Will the Quora team eventually figure out a way where timing and all these other hacks are no longer necessary for a fluid question-answer marketplace? Hopefully, but until then use the results of these experiments so your questions get the limelight they deserve.

*This is cross-posted from a personal Quora post.

Quora for iPhone: Great, Quora for iPad: Mind-blowing

September 30, 2011 § 3 Comments

By: Michael Sinanian

Quora for iPhone is finally out. After beta testing it for two months, I wrote a generally positive review for VentureBeat.

It covers the whole app experience if you’re curious before jumping in. But there’s some more I didn’t get to expand on in the review: the iPad app.

No, I’m not actually aware of a functioning iPad app prototype. Yes, I did phrase that to catch your attention.

But now that I have it…

In his take, Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb makes the criticism that the app should be available on the iPad, now. I totally agree.

I trust that Quora will eventually get around to it, but it can’t come any sooner!

There are two main reasons to tackle the iPad app:

  1. the iPad and Quora are both habit-forming: talk to any iPad user, they’ll tell you how they’ve formed habits around the device. They’ll tell you how they take it to the bathroom with them, how they spend their last waking minutes of the day with it in bed. It’s a habit-forming device, and that’s perfect for Quora, a habit-forming site, to piggyback on!
  2. iOS apps are not merely portable versions of the Quora website, but enhanced and extended experiences that the web format by definition cannot offer

Yes, yes, we know: you can access Quora’s HTML mobile site on Safari. Big whoop. As mobile lead Anne K. Halsall mentions in her announcement, the mobile team spent time trying to figure out how the mobile experience could enhance and extend Quora, not simply replicate it on a smaller screen. The iPad offers the same opportunity times a thousand.

When the iPad first came out, a lot of people told me, “But it’s just a giant iPod Touch…”

And I would always respond, “Yes! But you never knew just how cool that would be!”

The same applies for Quora. Yes, it would be just a physically larger version of the iPhone app, but that opens so many new doors.

How awesome would it be to glide through the map on that big 10″ screen, finding topics from around the world, learning a thing or two before you go to bed (or finish your bathroom duties)? It is, by definition, a whole new way to experience Quora.

While the iPad utilizes the same capacitive touchscreen as the iPhone, the fact that it’s three times larger means you get to interact with apps in a way that’s not merely utilitarian. It’s deeply engaging, intimate, whatever you want to call it; hold an iPad and you know what this experience is like.

The Quora team’s not stupid. They’re aware of this and after they’re done celebrating the iPhone app’s success, I’m sure they’ll start brainstorming for the iPad. I just can’t help dream up some of the potential features.

If we think the Quora Nearby map features are cool in Quora for iPhone, wait till we see the funky new “question visualizer” or whatever they’ll cook up from the future. That’s not all, how about:

  • Visual-tacticle interaction with Quora’s geo-location layer: imagine the map zoomed out to display the whole world, with a real-time overlay of where new questions are being asked and answered: tiny little blips blinking on and off like thunderstorms viewed from space; tap in on a “storm” and zoom in to see what the fuss is about. A concert? A public speaking event? Just remarkable.
  • Visual-tacticle interaction with Quora’s topic ontologies: explore topic ontologies in new visualizations that truly reveal the depth of Quora’s knowledge, see how topics are related and view the genealogy of pure knowledge in ways Wikipedia or other content sites could never provide.
  • Visaul-tacticle interaction with Quora’s social graph: explore users in a beautiful collage or other layout we can’t even imagine that highlights all sorts of cross-linked relationships, zoom in and out, rotate, etc with your fingers to get a wrap-around view of all these interlinkages, tap on intersections to view what posts, questions, answers people overlap on: basically: visualize the social connections that underlie Quora and its content. explore Quora through users in a visual way that titillating

We’ll finally be able to interact with Quora in a way that only Stormy Shippy can offer a preview of for however long it takes to read an info-graphic. LAME. [1] We want it longer than that, and we want it in bed, and in the bathroom, and wherever else our iPads journey with us!

Don’t do me wrong mobile development team, don’t you do me wrong!

[1] – Stormy’s work isn’t lame. The fleeting excitement is what’s lame, because it’s not something you can constantly go back to and play with over and over. It’s static, non-interactive data visualization.

[2] – This is cross-posted from a personal Quora post.

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:

Robert Scoble’s Severed Head, Truthiness, and the Surrender Chicken

January 31, 2011 § 6 Comments

By: Tristan Kromer

our new policy on self-promoting “social media experts” is to just kill them all, and let God sort it out. – Quora User (name redacted)

I was quite admittedly flattered when I was invited to join the closed Quora Review group on Facebook but confused. Why would the elite from Quora invite me to join? Why do they need a Facebook group? What’s the group for? And why couldn’t someone have invited me to the Quora party instead? (Sounds way more fun.)

Now I’m pretty sure I don’t belong. « Read the rest of this entry »

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