I have been watching Quora for a while now-both the site and the discussion swirling around it-for long enough to be convinced that the Q-and-A service will probably become an established social channel that should thrive and grow.
That's not to say it can't stand some improvement, but what new site can't?
Quora has attracted a lot of attention in the last few weeks based largely on the flood of people joining and the volume of Quora-generated content being shared through other services, mostly Twitter. Robert Scoble is responsible for a good chunk of the attention, having blogged that Quora is the future of blogging.
I would temper Robert's observation to argue that Quora is a future of blogging. Dave Winer's minimalist blogging tool could be another. The definition of blogging has evolved beyond posts to dedicated blogging tools to posts that can appear anywhere (a Facebook wall, for instance). But Robert's right in that the questions posed on Quora are generating blog-like posts, providing a forum for smart people to express their thoughts even though they may not want to commit to a full-blown blog.
The focus of much of the conversation about Quora has been on the answers themselves rather than the service, one reason I'm optimistic about the service's future. Some worry that the quality of the answers will deteriorate as the Quora population grows, but Scoble is exactly right when he notes that Quora has implemented several features designed to prevent just such a fate. Among the most significant (quoting Robert):
- You only see questions from people or topics you are following
- Members "vote up" the best answers; if you go off topic, like introducing politics or religion into a thread about gadgets at CES, you'll get voted down
- Quora is moderating activity here
- The best answerers are getting recommended more, both here and on Twitter
The ability to ask questions on established services like Twitter and LinkedIn is another factor leading some to write an early epitaph for Quora. But you could join Friendster, then MySpace, so under this rationale, Facebook never should have taken off.
But there are more reasons to reject this argument. Both Twitter and LinkedIn are services through which you can ask questions, but that's not their primary use. Quora is just about questions and answers. It's why people go there. You don't have to click through multiple screens to get to the Q&A as you do on Linked in, or sift through the total Twitter stream to find answers to your question. (Yes, you can apply a hashtag to your question, but you're relying on people answering your question to use it in their responses.)
But on Quora, questions and answers are all you'll find. As simplicity becomes a consumer preference, a site that does one thing well has a distinct advantage. (I said the same thing about Planely).
Plus, the fact that you can tweet your questions and your answers means that Twitter is a factor in attracting attention to the site, just as you can tweet a link to a blog post in order to drive more traffic to your blog.
Finally, not every question can be answered in 140 characters. Sometimes, Twitter works best as a gateway to more substantive content-like Quora answers.
One commentator added that you can also already ask questions on Facebook, as well. This is also true, but I'm frequently told that people use LinkedIn for business and Facebook for friends and family, a separation they feel it's important to maintain. So is your Facebook community the one to which you'd pose a business-related question?
The next objection asserts that Quora is yet another demand on time and attention. I reject the "attention meltdown" argument at its core. You only hear people who work in this space talking about it; I've never heard a consumer in another line of work lament that he or she has to check too many social sites. They use what helps or entertains them. Content curation, as it picks up steam, will ease whatever overload actually exists.
(Speaking of value, journalists have already started incorporating Quora answers into their articles. And the "New Symbiosis of Professional Networks," (PDF), a SNCR study, has shown that workers make better and faster decisions when they can query their social media peer groups, many of whom may already be adding Quora to their mix.)
For Quora, though, this isn't much of an issue, since you can stay on top of what interest you via Twitter, Facebook and email, clicking over to the site just as you do a blog post linked in a tweet. The integration of Quora in other channels alleviates any need to make regular visits to the website.
Quora also lets you direct a question to an individual. I got one such question today from someone who thought I might have the answer (which, in fact, I did).
Besides, I'm willing to make time for a service that pays me back with high-value information. In fact, it's more likely to be a reallocation of time I'm already spending asking and answering questions on Twitter and LinkedIn.
I was intrigued when Craig McGill, writing at Contently Managed, argued that Quora isn't a trusted, personalized network. Since you only see the questions and answers posted by people you choose to follow, it becomes highly trusted. McGill also argues that there's nothing to stop a thread or topic being hijacked but, as Scoble notes, the folks at Quora are moderating the site and the community will vote down inappropriate answers, keeping the high-quality content at the top.
Quora itself has spoken out on the issue with a post titled, "Commitment to Keeping Quora High Quality."
In fact, the caliber of the answers is what keeps me coming back to Quora. The 21 answers to the question, "What determines influence?" provide an outstanding overview of a topic that is widely discussed. And as I was writing this post, I noticed a tweet from Claude Malaison pointing me to 20 answers to a question about the best tools for daily content curation. With that kind of information as a resource, I may well be inclined to check Quora for such answers before Google.
The level of participation is another point in Quora's favor; I understand that during the invitation phase, the company made a point of bringing high-power and highly credible people into the community. A question about what it cost AOL to send out all those CDs during its heyday was answered by former AOL CEO Steve Case, among others. Evan Williams has answered questions about Twitter.
Because the content I see is generated by people I follow, the topics have all revolved around social media, PR, communications, technology and the like. But that doesn't mean I can't find answers to questions on other topics: The search function works extremely well. There are, of course, some steps Quora could take to improve-and I have little doubt that they're working on these:
- The site has been slow. Faster load times would be great and alleviate some frustration.
- Mobile apps would be useful.
- I'd like to see improvements to the notification feature that lists new follows. Every time I opt to follow one of the people listed there, the screen vanishes and I have to invoke it again, starting over at the top. If I use the notifications link, the data appearing after I click the "more" button sometimes disappears, defaulting to the first screen of content.
- I wouldn't mind being able to add tags to a question or to search on tags.
- It would also be cool to be able to subscribe to be notified of any new question on a broad theme, such as jam bands or science fiction movies.
But these are minor complaints that will certainly be addressed. I'll keep tapping into Quora in the meantime.
Some other posts offering upbeat views of Quora: