If you haven’t heard of Quora, you should. It’s been getting a lot of buzz. What is Quora? According to their website, “Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. Quora was founded in April 2009 by Adam D’Angelo, who was previously CTO and VP of engineering at Facebook, and Charlie Cheever, who led Facebook Connect and Facebook Platform. Quora is privately held and funded by Benchmark Capital, and is based in Palo Alto, CA.”
Having been involved in discussion forums, developing online communities such as BigBlueBall as well as enterprise communities in the context of knowledge management (KM), what’s interesting to me is how Quora takes the traditional threaded discussion format and completely reinvents it, with some excellent results.
Granted, there are important differences between Quora and a discussion forum. Quora is specifically and exclusively suited to a question and answer format. Forums can serve a much broader purpose, including open discussions, brainstorming and ad hoc, asynchronous collaboration. But when you look at most forums, a large percentage of the discussions begin with someone who needs help (they have a question) and subsequent responses (answers, in the best case scenario).
How does Quora do this differently? First of all, forums typically require the participants to begin by navigating to the category that is best suited to their topic. This alone can quickly become a barrier, as the way I would categorize something might be very different than the way other people would. In Quora, you simply ask a question. You have the option of tagging a question with one or more keywords (roughly analogous to categories). Other Quora users can follow (think subscribe) specific questions if they are curious about the answer, or they can follow a tag and get notified of any activity tagged with that keyword.
Second, where forum are typically listed in either a threaded view (i.e. Slashdot) or chronological view, Quora allows the responses to be resorted. Other Quora users can vote on the best answers, and they percolate to the top.
The Q&A type site isn’t really anything new. Google tried it before, and failed. Yahoo! Answers is another service that has hung in there, but the quality is spotty. So far, the quality of the responses has really set Quora apart. It’s not uncommon to see a CEO or founder of a company jump in with a response to a question about their business model. The particpants, by and large, are a higher caliber than I’ve seen in similar systems.
What happens next? Last week at the Social Media MasterMinds meetup in Orange County, we speculated that the opportunity for Quora has already come and gone. The theory is that once it goes mainstream, the quality suffers. The noise level increases as people look for ways to “use” Quora to improve their SEO, market their company or service, or insert spam links for pharmaceuticals.
I’m still in discovery mode on Quora. I’m following a few topics — some personal (hiking) and some professional (knowledge management). I’ve voted up a few good answers, added an answer, and asked a couple questions (with mixed results so far). The process has been interesting and even useful, but the jury is still out on whether I’ll stick with it. For now, you can me find here on Quora.
If you work with forums, online communities or KM, Quora is worth looking at. Consider it food for thought.