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Quora’s Two Greatest Challenges

By: Guest | February 15, 2011 | 
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Joe HackmanJoe Hackman is the founder of Managed Solutions and a blogger, podcaster, technology enthusiast, and fan of conversation.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you’ve probably at least heard of Quora. It has been particularly hot among technophiles in recent months.

When I joined, I noticed that within my Gmail address book it found only two technology startup CEOs. Both of them had interaction on their accounts and, knowing and respecting their level of tech/business savvy, it meant to me that Quora was something I should not ignore.

So I played for a short time then proceeded to ignore it anyway, for several months anyway.

Why are we really there?

Amidst all the flurry of activity I started posting again on Quora. Why?

In addition to considering it my business to know and understand any new relevant tool I didn’t want to miss the boat. I actually think that this has more to do with why people are flocking to Quora right now. I also think it is probably going to be the very thing that ruins it.

Vivek Wadhwa recently wrote a piece “Why I Don’t Buy the Quora Hype” and he made some great points. One sentence that invoked one of those “captain obvious” moments for me:

The quality of answers will decline.

Vivek also goes on to suggest a very different future:

What is more likely to happen and makes far more sense is that a new generation of private, gated communities will grow and evolve. This is where people with common interests will gather and exchange ideas.

Anecdotal evidence that Wadhwa is right about Gated Communities

If any of you were present on IRC networks back in the 1990’s you will understand what Vivek was driving towards in his piece. In the mid to late 90’s I participated on EFNET where a lot of IT geeks asked and answered questions about technology. When I joined it was relatively civil and by the time I left it was like a warzone with servers frequently disconnecting, getting attacked and channels being taken over. Where did we go next? We relocated with a small group to a private channel on a much smaller network that lives on to this day 10+ years later! Which reminds us all:

Gated communities have longevity.

Voting Issues

You can find abundant questions about the number of upvotes on Quora having to do with everything from how good looking someone is to how famous they are. There is plenty of evidence that simple voting is not the best way to determine the best answers. To find out some insights on this I reached out to Hutch Carpenter at Spigit and he provided me with these insights about voting “weight” and community involvement:

Properly involving the crowd to identify top contributions is critical to a successful innovation community. If you only apply simple vote counts to identify top ideas, innovation is little more than a popularity contest. People earn reputations via peer responses to their contributions in the Spigit platform, which are used to weight their up-votes and down-votes. These weighted approval ratings go deeper than simple vote count, and help surface the best ideas which don’t necessarily have the top number of votes. This fosters an innovation meritocracy and ensures that top ideas don’t get overlooked.

As it sits today Quora is lacking this functionality and it will take time and great effort to produce better quality. They will of course have to achieve this while their system is being scaled up, challenged and gamed by users.

I will still visit Quora, particularly if I have a question to ask. It is one more place I can go in addition to LinkedIn answers or social sourcing via Twitter, Amplify, Facebook or my blog.

Joe Hackman is the founder of Managed Solutions and a blogger, podcaster, technology enthusiast, and fan of conversation. He helps businesses use technology more effectively.

15 comments
eschumpert
eschumpert

Great article, Joe. I must admit that I too had a similar experience with Quora. Initially, I joined and navigated through a few questions, even contributed an answer or two. But the issue I came accross echo's that of Hutch's discovery: a lack of an effective voting mechanism.

As Vivek spoke to above, Quora's user base is growing and with the growth will come A LOT of questions followed by A LOT of answers to those questions; the quality of answers will surely deteriorate. In order for Quora to scale, they'll need more than a simple vote (up/down) system.

It'll be interesting to see how they handle to growing amount of information in the future.

Thanks,
Erin Schumpert

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

First off this was reposted on Social Media Today and it was confusing because I could not tell the author until arriving here! Anyway blogs confuse me in general. Just ask @Danny Brown who reads my posts on his blog.

Yes @LFJeremy I think Quora is kind of an elitist Yahoo Answers. Here is my view. All these fancy names that come to play, why? Ego. They are bored. They want to show off. Feel everyones stroking their egos. Most of them got lucky even if they worked hard. Right place right time right people to help sold at the right time.How many of the silicon valley startup folks sold before their business died? Say AOL had stayed private or Netscape etc. BTW please come back and revisit the Groupon rejecting the buyout in 2-3 years!

Don't these people all have each other's email addresses and aren't they all friends on "cough" facebook or connected via linkedin? Don't they hang in often the same circles? Show up at many of the same gatherings?

If I wanted to know why the sky is blue why would I go to Quora? And isn't it often a Wiki-Answers set up. I liked the point of just because something has more Likes does not mean its the right answer!

I agree with @Danny Brown about cultivating your own network of people who are willing to help you with advice. It could be blogs it could be other social network groups, but that will give you a competitive edge. And for things that don't give you a competitive edge I think Google will have all your answers.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

I've been hugely underwhelmed by Quora. Yes, there are some great views there, but I'm finding more posts from people trying to sound important, or questions that a quick Google search would have given.

I see far more value in private Facebook groups, blog communities and the crowdsourcing on Facebook Pages.

dcfemella
dcfemella

Great post! Quora still needs a lot of work, but hasn't every social networking site that we are on? Therefore, there is still some hope that they will fix the issues that plague them. They are attempting to use crowdsourcing to create answers that are of value to the community. However, like you said, you have to deal with people who are trying to undermind other people's efforts out of maliciouness. I remember one guy telling me if I could please remove my answer because it will steer the conversation in a way that he didn't want it to (I unfollowed him right after that).

I disagree with Vivek's point about private, gated community in the sense that Quora won't be the initiator of this. As you stated, they have been around since the 90's. There is (or was) Ning, LinkedIn Groups, Listservs, etc. that have already been doing this. People have always had communities in their niche, so Quora won't be adding any value or evolving something that has already been occuring.

I think the way that one way Quora can change their editing downfall (editing for all) is allowing only people who have been adding value to a topic and have an X amount of answers that have been voted up to have this priviledge. It won't solve all the issues, but it's a step in the right direction.

A way to know that you have written a great post is by the evoking thought, and you have done that. :)

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

Great post Joe! I have been curious myself to see what others thought about Quora (especially those whose opinion I value). I have signed-up and visited Quora once. Although I keep thinking, "I need to log back in & check it out!" I just haven't found the time. I also feel like the reason I signed-up in the first place was to stay up to pace with new social media tools etc. It's part of my job and it's something I'm interested in. Which is why I keep reminding myself I need to spend a little more time with Quora to see what I think but it's also what struck me in your post.

Initially, the problem I see with Quora is that with so many tools right now demanding our attention, I think it will be hard for Quora to actually stick. Although I am anxious to see where it goes and see if and how it evolves.

Thanks for always providing such great information Joe!

hackmanj
hackmanj

@eschumpert as you've suggested the key is really how Quora handles this, certainly easier said than done based on what they are trying to accomplish. It's interesting that one of the first questions that is almost always asked with web technology projects is "will it scale". We'll find out, but if these issues are any indication at this level of use, getting bigger will not help, that's for sure.

Thanks for joining the conversation,

Joe

hackmanj
hackmanj

@HowieG @Danny Brown @LFJeremy I thought that was pretty cool that it was posted at Social Media Today! Don't you mean comments on his blog? Actualy maybe you have it right. You write comments that could be blog posts. :)

How much of the presence by "fancy names" do you think has to do with feeling the need to be there, to protect whatever house it is that they've built around their web/social media presence? New technologies are great equalizers, for example when I started in the IT industry Windows NT4 was hot and a lot of the existing providers were hanging on to Novell and other antiquated systems. I was able to step in and compete right away. Maybe these names are protecting their market? Perhaps they are doing their jobs the way they see it. Something to consider?

I love the concept of cultivating a network to improve the access to knowledge, that is a great use of technology - to make great connections to people who you can help and be helped. I feel very at home here in that regard. Gini and her readers are awesome folks to connect with. I definitely see these kinds of relationships as a competitive advantage and couldn't agree more that Google is a great place to find answers also. We've all become researchers to some degree!

Thanks for your post... I mean comment :)

hackmanj
hackmanj

@Danny Brown thanks for the excellent tips Danny. A friend of mine @jonathanfleming really likes the meetup model. I've been to his localpreneurs group, it seems like a great tool for making new meaningful contacts.

I have another blog post in mind Danny, you've got me thinking! Thanks.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@hackmanj Cheers, mate. I guess it depends on your needs.

- If I was a small business owner, I'd look at something like Small Biz Nation on LinkIn (great group). Or if you're on Twitter, one of the #smbiz or#smallbiz chats, and make lists of the people you find interesting.

- MeetUp.com is also a great place to find local networking opportunities with like-minded individuals that can help you away from social networks.

Try and think where you want to be (set a timeline of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months) and then map out how you can get there. Do some research (Google or social search) and find out where the folks are that you need to connect with, and just start the groundwork. Time-consuming, yes, but worth it.

Of course, you could always use Amplify too - I hear there are some great guides and people on there... ;-)

hackmanj
hackmanj

@Danny Brown I think you might have just helped me understand one of my challenges with Quora, the good content is difficult to find. Your experience speaks very well to the robust eco-system that you play a leadership role in Danny. I could see as someone who is plugged in to that environment you have a network that covers a large swath of expertise. Where would you recommend that someone that might be building that network go? Linked In Q&A? Yahoo Answers?

hackmanj
hackmanj

@LFJeremy @dcfemella I like where you went with your observations Jeremy, even a step farther in the need to participate. Also I think I need to save this quote:

"you can't trust a large number of people to properly do ANYTHING, especially on the internet"

What do you think it would take for you to feel compelled to check out a new service like Quora?

hackmanj
hackmanj

@dcfemella thanks for reading, thinking and responding to this post. I am surprised that someone would ask a person who had taken the time to respond to something to remove their comment. That for lack of a better word is nuts. To your point about being a work in progress, you are right, that is the case. I think the short term velocity of growth led a lot of people to ask questions, it's good that they did because it has led to some suggestions on how to make the site better.

I see your point about gated communities - you are sort of saying they have been around and will continue to be and Quora doesn't need to be another one. The one thing I like about the gated communities is the "Quality Control" that can/does occur. Also people are not there because they want to be seen as an expert at x or y, they are there because they need the information available and are willing to invest the time and in some cases money to participate. There does seem to be a greater need for more focussed communities. He also makes an excellent point about how truly small and exclusive Quora is (and look at the pains already) that will challenge it's ability to scale.

I had not even touched on the issue of editing, but for an idea of what that might be like we only have to look at Wikipedia. What would really make sense there is a gamification of that aspect that would help to address what I've already alleged is the main reason so many people joined Quora and why most of them are inactive already. :)

So awesome to hear your thoughts, thanks for making me think also!

hackmanj
hackmanj

@rachaelseda Thanks for breaking the ice here Rachael. I realize today that aside from following back some friends that have joined Quora I have not been back since I wrote this post a few weeks ago. I think the shouting matches that were bouncing around turned me off more than a little bit. I will try to keep an open mind but really the importance of gated communities is a little understated right now but perhaps for good reason. There is a lot of opportunity on the open web but it also creates a need for curation and filtering. I agree with you, it will definitely be interesting to see how or if Quora overcomes the challenges.

What tools do you find yourself using most if you don't mind me asking?

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