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Enter Quora

After being inundated with follow notifications, I suspect it’s time to seriously consider Quora, an online Q&A service which attempts to connect the curious with the knowledgable.  It’s not the first one; Yahoo! Answers being perhaps the most prominent, but it’s certainly the hottest property in the game right now, earning plenty of press and lots of kudos.  And, judging by the avalanche of activity I’ve been exposed to, Quora is so hot, it’s smoking.

Entrepreneur Semil Shah is particularly bullish on Quora, writing an effervescent piece at TechCrunch on how Quora is not only game changing, but destined to be as influential as Twitter.  Read The Thin Wedge Of Quora and you’ll be excused for thinking you’ve just come across the next Google.  There’s nothing wrong with slobbering over a service you love; just read anything I’ve written about Foursquare.  As such, I admit my hypocrit-o-meter has been working overtime to make sure I give Quora a fair shake.

Shah sums up many of the arguments that proponents of Quora make:

  • Brand management & CRM – “It’s not hard to imagine a world where big brands have links to their Quora topic page on their homepage to interact with others.”
  • Social & Professional networking – “Quora straddles an interesting middle line, somewhere between a niche network of users organized around topics and a full-blown social/interest network where a Quora profile becomes a sort of personal homepage or splash page, linking your audience with your other networks.”
  • Endorsements, review & advice – “By organizing people around topics and questions, combined with user identification and the ability for the audience to up/down vote contributions, Quora may also become a mechanism by which individuals and entities are publicly endorsed (or criticized).”

Those are the main points; Shah’s other comments are far weaker, namely Quora’s impact on education, blogging innovation (really?) and expert research and analysis. I’ll return to these.

What I Like

Quora is well-presented, and fit for purpose for sure.  I (fortunately) like how it handles the Q&A, it’s easy to read and easy to find out about those who respond.  My skepticism has more to do with its ability to scale and accommodate mass-market adoption.

Wikipedia succeeds because there can be only one page per topic, backed up by a lively discussion behind the scenes. Quora brings everything to the fore — warts and all — and suffers for it. No amount of filtering or voting can eliminate the noise of the masses braying about every question.

My critique of Quora begins – and ends – with the expression of the fundamental challenge: the signal-to-noise ratio and the balance between a small coterie of experts and the mass market.

As evidenced by every blog post I’ve ever commented on, for every magnitude increase in contribution (eg. responses) , there results a corresponding increase in noise, in useless data. Yes, Quora attracts competent, knowledgable people; because of this, it also attracts wannabes, polluting the waters, a fatal combination.

And the rest …

Shah suggests Quora is poised to invade the classroom, revolutionise blogging and drive premium services from established research services.

This seems to be over-reaching.

In the education environment, Quora will suffer fatally, lacking a comprehensive delivery vehicle.  It’s true that Quora can lean on established experts to supply high-quality answers, but consistency is key for research, and there are an abundance of existing, well-vetted authorities identified specifically for this purpose.

As for blogging, a surfeit of services deliver plenty of choices to the market, in which case time will tell. But while the format is efficient, it is also restrictively binary: question and answer. Breaking this format will be necessary to increase its currency in the larger social graph. Again, time will tell.

Finally, I am particularly skeptical about established, professional research agencies having any time for Quora. Not only does it run counterintuitively to their business model, I can’t see Forrester or Gartner happily risking the erosion of their brand value by having their experts’ wisdom mingling with that of the masses. I could be wrong but there’s a reason why these same organisation have explicit social media policies for their consultants and retain strict oversight over where their words appear.

Conclusion

Quora will compete with the rest of the market for attention, and it has plenty of fans, none less than Robert Scoble himself, who credits it for taking his attention away from Twitter and Buzz — no mean feat.

But I’m not convinced. And I’m certainly not entertaining the notion it is as important as Twitter. I will say this: for defined, contained communities, where all the contributors are recognised experts, then the Quora engine (and model) is highly effective.

For the rest of us, well, we’ll just keep on truckin’.

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Categories: Marketing, Social Media
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