Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Technology Lesson: Quora

Quora is a question-and-answer website (and start-up, if that interests you).

The site is much like Yahoo! Answers, but was founded with the purpose of answering questions thoughtfully and intelligently. (I'm sure Yahoo! is not proud of its reputation and ignominy—tread though the Answers site carefully.)

Quora was founded in 2009. It requires users to sign up and answer using his or her real name (not a screenname). Users can connect through Facebook or Twitter (but are not limited to those accounts). Users may also access via an app. Last April, the site had 200,000 monthly visitors. There are at least half a million users.

I'll let Time take over for a moment:
Like many Web 2.0 services, Quora isn't so much a new idea as a fresh take on a leftover concept from the Web 1.0 era — it's a spiritual descendant of long-forgotten 1990s start-ups such as Abuzz, AskMe and Keen. You can post questions and answers on any topic and search for ones that have already been posted, from the mundane ("When did Steve Ballmer become CEO of Microsoft?") to the metaphysical ("Why do people lie?"). As with Twitter, you can follow other members (as well as specific questions); as with Digg, everyone can vote answers up or down, so the best responses are easy to spot and the worst ones stay out of the way.

Nothing extraordinary about any of that. So why is Quora attracting so much attention? It's the community. On an Internet that can feel as if it's inhabited largely by belligerent know-nothings, Quora is a place where the average citizen is an intelligent, well-informed person — and where, in a Lake Wobegon–like effect, most everybody seems to be above average. If you ask a question about a particular Web start-up, odds are that you'll get one or more thoughtful replies. And it won't be the least bit startling if one of them comes from a founder of the company in question. 

One of Quora's appeal is that it is popular in the technology and business world, so questions may be answered by the famed CEOs, presidents, and subjects behind your question. This also means that the questioned may be answered by a person with vast knowledge on the subject, and/or experience. Hopefully, most questions will receive good answers, which will enhance user experience.

I'll let Wired echo the experience:
The amount of knowledge that has been poured into the site is phenomenal. Users ask questions about raising capital, or about booting a cofounder who fails to pull his weight, and almost immediately a discussion sprouts up among seasoned engineers, investors, and CEOs. Sometimes, it’s almost comic how questions will draw cameo appearances from the exact person who can offer the most insight. How did Friendster blow it? Jonathan Abrams, the company’s founder, is among those who posted answers. Why did AOL make a particular decision? Here is former CEO Steve Case weighing in with his perspective. Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen has dropped in to answer questions; so, too, has Reed Hastings of Netflix and Rob Glaser, founder of RealNetworks.
The article notes however, that once you try another topic, the site is a "ghost town."

Still, I like the idea. I also think Old People have make a positive contribution. The site is said to have had a design overhaul within the last year, making it easier to use. Old People have expertise and knowledge at a wide variety of topics. Surely Old People can positively contribute?

Additional Resources:
Does Quora Really Have All the Answers?, Wired
Is Quora the Next Red-Hot Web Start-Up?, Time

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