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Gini Dietrich

Quora Is Not for Normal People

By: Gini Dietrich | March 9, 2011 | 
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Although she meant it for Facebook question of the week, Abbie Fink asked us about Quora and I thought I’d answer it today AND do a video question of the week, from another Facebook friend, tomorrow.

She asked, “Quora: Do or do not. Why or why not? Figured I’d rather ask you than ask Quora.”

My response?

Do not.

At first I was really pleased with Quora. Want to know which parts of The Social Network are true? Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook co-founder) is there to tell you.

Want to know how to successfully pitch Mashable? Ben Parr is there to tell you.

Want to know how to successfully pitch TechCrunchRobert Scoble, Ben Parr, and many others provide answers.

Want to know if Amazon is working on an Android eReader? One of the guys who is working on the programming gives you the answer (yes).

Pretty cool, right?

Well, it turns out it’s just a place for the insiders. If you’re one of those named above, your question (and answer) gets published and ranked higher than, say, me. And there has been a lot of chatter about the editors changing your question, if they don’t like the way it’s stated, sometimes taking it completely out of context.

Your question or answer can be voted down. And you can even be kicked off the site. All because one of the editors doesn’t like the way you’ve stated something.

So it’s not really an open web forum that allows you to get true and honest feedback. It’s a Q&A site (albeit a pretty cool one, even though Yahoo! Answers has 100 million users and they, well, do not) that is run by people who can change your question, mark down your answer, or remove you altogether.

The cool part is that there is very little spam (has anyone noticed a significant increase in spam on LinkedIn lately?!) and you have to use your real name, but brands aren’t allowed there yet.

Sure, your employees can get on there and represent you, but until they allow companies, it’s not going to be a very useful tool and one we won’t recommend to clients.

My recommendation: Check it out. Search on there for answers, if you have a question that is too large for Twitter (see what New York Times columnist David Pogue has to say about that). But don’t spend a lot of time or effort on it.

What’s been your experience with Quora? How would you answer Abbie’s question?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

94 comments
Craig_Hubley
Craig_Hubley

https://www.quora.com/Quora-Downvote-Cabal is a good intro to the various claims about a "Quora Downvote Cabal" and the answers given by officers of the company, notably Marc Bodnick, denying that it does or can exist.  This is a slightly different problem than blocks and bans, and a more insidious one, as downvotes keep people wasting their time participating but no one sees their answers, or least without the special effort of uncollapsing them (few do that).


Facilitating an elaborate discussion on "Downvotes" focuses on the essentially failed "+1 or -1" voting system of Quora, while avoiding the much more serious problem of a block/ban/censorship cabal or systemic bias against certain opinions or user bases.

Craig_Hubley
Craig_Hubley

I agree completely with user "Quorasucks".  My experience is that Quora has abusive admins who (either individually or as a group, Marc Bodnick himself claims all admins are consulted on every decision) simply ban those they think are politically incompatible with their corporate goals.  Bodnick has elaborate and lovely-sounding explanations of how the "policies" supposedly work, but they are demonstrably false.  That is, any investigation into the actual blocks and bans that real users have experienced, almost immediately turn up violations of the rules Bodnick states.  Unlike Wikipedia there is no ArbCom or any other user-run board or appeal mechanism, merely a cabal that supposedly responds to comments at "appeals@" or "moderation@". 


Yet, people are regularly blocked and banned and notified by Quora messages *THAT DO NOT EVEN CONTAIN THOSE EMAIL ADDRESSES* to inform them that they have these "appeals".  That is just one of many direct contradictions between practice and the policies Bodnick states.


Unlike Wikipedia Quora is privately owned and thus it will never be worthwhile for any serious resistance to this tendency to political and corporate censorship to evolve.  Why make exactly the people abusing you, richer, by wasting your own unpaid time critiquing their abuses and inconsistencies?  It just isn't worth it, and it never will be.  Especially as Quora works only in English and accordingly will never be reflective of world opinion on many issues.  Wikimedia Foundation, which seeks credibility in all languages, has at least some incentive to care if the French- or Spanish- or Arabic-speaking world would utterly reject some preposterous belief.  Quora has ever reason however to facilitate climate denialists, other science denialists such as evangelical Christians, torturer and war crime advocates, people who sneer at international law, etc., because those generally right-wing audiences pay a lot of money to propagate their drivel.


So if Quora is to become ad-supported, building audience tolerant of irrational beliefs that are widely held by rich Americans, Israelis, British and Canadians, may well be a good business plan.


Thus not only is Quora not any good, and driving its good users away, it's going to get worse.  Much worse, as the structure of the project necessarily will lead it away from rational thought and facilitation of rational debate.  Its future is as an echo chamber for the US and UK far right, and that's a direct consequence of how it's structured (as a private corporation), how it doesn't care if it meets its own rules (re moderation, appeal, etc.).


By contrast, Facebook is almost never accused of bald political censorship as Quora often is.


Wikimedia has a transparency albeit complex appeals mechanism that even its own founder(s) abide by.


Quora also has a weak ranking system that results in "down vote cabal" hiding good answers from sight if they contradict the ruling clique, a problem Wikipedia also had in its early days (via reverts not down votes, but same idea).  Every user getting one absolute vote on every single answer is a bad system, worse even than Slashdot's, though having 1 vote up or down is nicer than just 1 vote up.


I must agree 100% with Quorasucks also that:


"And then those same ban happy admins feel free to write sarcastic bigoted answers themselves but hey who's going to ban them, themselves?


It's a real eye opener when you examine the candidate list of best answerers for 2014 and find that 10% of them have been banned."


At Quora, quality is not job one, it's not even job ten.  



Quorasucks
Quorasucks

2014 Update : Quora's abusive admin problem has proliferated out of control. They are now silencing and banning people without explanation daily, simply because they don't feel your answers contribute anything to Quora (not explanation, obscure site policy on noticeboard) or they don't like your name. It feels like a site run by ban happy 15 year olds out to save the world. Someone explain to me how this is different to cyberbullying.


And then those same ban happy admins feel free to write sarcastic bigoted answers themselves but hey who's going to ban them, themselves?


It's a real eye opener when you examine the candidate list of best answerers for 2014 and find that 10% of them have been banned.

Craig_Hubley
Craig_Hubley

@Quorasucks Agreed, it's gotten seemingly worse since October, with blocks and bans now being issued without the notice so much as including any mention of the moderation@quora.com or appeals@quora.com accounts supposedly set up to dispute such decisions.  It's very obvious that Quora is degrading even in meeting its own inadequate rules.

CharlesWood1
CharlesWood1

I was extremely offput by Quora because I couldn't even -look- at it without signing in with Facebook, creating a password, and validating my email address (which signed me up for a newsletter). And then it mined my Facebook profile for as much information about me as it could, which it fed into its question engine without telling me.  It looked like I was going to get a useful answer out of it, but instead I got so irritated with them that I stopped looking for an answer to my question and googled their contact page (which is not clearly listed) so that I could send them a rant about this behavior.


Very bad form, Quora!

estgomdna
estgomdna

I signed in on Quora looking for some answers about a product who boasts about using linux servers but don't offer linux based desktop support and to express how hipocritical these companies can be and was blocked from Quora because I have to use my real name. These people actually use the information you provide on your facebook and can censor you freely if you express anything that sounds incoherently (against their ideas). So for me QUORA SUCKS! and big time. 

cendrinemedia
cendrinemedia

Hello Gini:

Thank you for posting this! I have to admit that Quora looked promising at first sight. I signed up and tried answering some questions. Then editors started changing most of the things I was writing. While typos happen (and I am grateful for people pointing them out), what I do not like is when someone tries to completely rewrite my answers.

So, I figured that since I was not deemed good enough, I had rather focus on other sites.

To me, the service is not worth the hype.

OldMrBill
OldMrBill

Signed up w/Quora in late December 2010. Have had nothing but wannabe MLM'rs following me and sending me emails about their miracle methods for making millions on the Internet. What a waste of cloud time!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I have zero use for Quora. I signed up. I said 'meh'. I love how new sites and networks come out make a splash everyone goes crazy then it fades away. Chat Roulette anyone?

brelow
brelow

Gini, how long have you been on quora? Have you had a lot of interaction?

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog

As I tweeted you the other day, Gini, I created a Quora account a few weeks ago as a latecomer (despite normally being an early adopter of such trends) and was unimpressed. I clicked around, answered a question here or there, but have not returned. It didn't inspire me in the way LinkedIn Answers inspires me to constantly ask and answer.

Part of my skepticism stems from the fact too many so-called A-List bloggers are referencing how amazing the site is -- but nobody else is writing about it. Makes one wonder why, eh?

AbbieF
AbbieF

Thank you, Gini, and thanks to all the commentors. Some good information here. I appreciate the insight. I'd been poking around in Quora a bit; it is nice to know others are sharing similar challenges. I knew this would be the right place to ask the quesion.

AlanMorrison
AlanMorrison

I've had fun experimenting with Quora. It's interesting to see, for example, what answers get the most votes. I try to post the answers with pictures (via URLs) to make the answer more appealing, and that helps. I've tried being pithy versus being comprehensive, and both can work, depending. Answering a question lots of people are interested in helps. Providing a really useful answer to a popular question helps. And you can cite someone else's wonderful answer out on the Web, and link to it., and that helps. I did that with this question (http://www.quora.com/Which-place-should-a-technophile-visit-on-a-first-trip-to-San-Francisco-and-Silicon-Valley-in-March-2011), and it was great to see that people from several different countries appreciated it.

The Scobles of the world get tons more votes than I do because they've stored up so much goodwill elsewhere that it plays out anywhere they dwell online, including Quora. The people who matter are smart enough to realize, though, that just because someone got 158 votes for an answer doesn't mean it's the best answer.

You learn what you're passionate about by the questions you answer and the questions you search for answers to. It's nice to know that some people actually read what I posted, in some cases liked it, and in others suggested improvements to it. I haven't had much trouble with editors--they made small, reasonable suggestions for changes. It's a good service. I wish the personalization were better, but they've made strides in that area.

Preferences differ depending on what you care about. I like Twitter, but don't use Facebook much. LinkedIn has some value, but I don't post or dwell there. It doesn't bother me that Quora's not for everyone, or that so many of the commenters here dislike it. I do a lot of research, writing, and analysis. Quora's thoughtfully designed; it's highly interactive, and gives you good feedback. I don't like the other Q&A sites at all, except when I'm troubleshooting a computer or something.

Why can't it be good for just some of us? The probability of finding someone interesting to follow on Quora is higher than on Twitter. But maybe I'm too much of a wonk.

CesLSU
CesLSU

Not for normal people???? I'll be signing up immediately!

Shonali
Shonali

I haven't used Quora a lot, and am still trying to get my arms around it. I certainly don't think it's a "Twitter killer" or anything like that, and I can certainly see its value in getting answers directly from CEOs and true experts.

One of the things I'm trying is, rather than follow people back automatically on Quora, just because we're connected on Twitter, for example, is to follow questions instead. I get more value that way, and I really don't see the point of following someone just because they're there (and that goes for my "follow attitude" across the board). If anything, following a range of people will probably dilute my Quora stream to the point where completely random Q&As - that I have no interest in - will show up, making my experience even less valuable.

SocialMoves
SocialMoves

Hey Gini, great topic! Quora is a great research tool to bend the left/right brain curve. I'm continually AMAZED at the amount of time some folks put into their answers (aka: find the time). I've had people edit my answers, but one guy actually took the time to send me a personal message to explain the rationale behind each of his edits of my stuff. That's learning community. Certainly you have the insider clicks gaming the votes for their incestious MO's. Seen that video before. But otherwise good research tool. Keep up the good deed of calling out The Spin!

ladylaff
ladylaff

I really like Quora and have received some really generous, detailed answers to very specific questions, the quality of which I just don't get on LinkedIn and other sites. I actually like the downvoting because I think it makes the system more balanced and real. It helps me understand how my answers are genuinely perceived so I don't get too full of myself. I have had one answer downvoted and frankly, having read it back over and the question it related to, I could see why. And I really appreciate the absence of spam and blatant self-promotion. Finally, if you use Quora for non-work related interests there is some truly amazing stuff in there about music, philosophy and art. I'm digging it for sure.

Rachel
Rachel

I'm with you. I poked around it and found it hard to use and time consuming. Some of the answers are cool, but it does seem like a popularity contesthat I don't have the time, energy, or right jeans for : 0

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

All the Quora rocks folks selling the opportunity to share your knowledge somewhere other than your own space is funny. Like Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, and others were not enough?

staceylamiller
staceylamiller

I think Quora is useful in some ways, and in other ways causes some frustration. I've used it both to crowdsource answers for blog posts, such as my post on "Pitching through social media, yea or nay?" (which received answers from techcrunch and PR pros like Richard Laermer) and also to respond to inquiries about press releases (I work for Vocus/PRWeb). To me, it has been useful in that aspect. However, the "voting down" of answers is a downfall of the site as competitors can vote down an answer anonymously and the editing of questions and answers makes me uneasy and worried that something might be taken out of context, or edited beyond its meaning, which causes a lot of confusion (it's happened before and I received some unnecessary backlash).

JenFongSpeaks
JenFongSpeaks

I completely agree with you. I have been on and attempted to participate. But I've found the "editorial" group intensely frustrating. What if you don't agree with what the editors think? Even if you have vastly more experience in the field? Doesn't matter. And that, I think, mitigates the usefulness of the place. Sure, there is cool and useful info. But it doesn't allow for the whole picture. Plus I don't think the interface makes it easy to find what you need quickly. And who has all day to spend on Quora? I've moved on for now.

KenMueller
KenMueller

I think you hit it. Social needs to be more open and less contrived and controlled. I see things like Quora as being very niche: only useful to some, and it gives rise to a hierarchy, whereas one of the beauties of Social media is that it levels the playing field.

marksherrick
marksherrick

I took a couple looks around the place, and I just don't like it...its like digg crossed with the wikipedia discussion pages, but done in a way to make it more annoying. But to have it not be completely open, that's rediculous, and its what will make or break that site when either the right or the wrong people find out.

timjahn
timjahn

I've found it can be a good way to use your existing content as a resource for people who might not have otherwise seen it.

I think it's definitely a tool worth putting in the toolbox, but not the end all be all.

andrewatideal
andrewatideal

I think you're mis-understanding the power of Quora somewhat - though I too am still getting used to the water over there and have pretty much just been lurking for a while.

The key thing with Quora, I believe, is that it 's a platform whereby experts can teach things to those who are interested in the knowledge they have. And since businesses can out spend or out teach (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2005/09/you_can_outspen.html) their competition, Quora is actually a free advertising platform where you can share your knowledge.

I think you're erring if you ignore the opportunity Quora is giving you, especially someone with your domain knowledge. You have a lot you could teach people over there.

andrewatideal
andrewatideal

I think you're mis-understanding the power of Quora somewhat - though I too am still getting used to the water over there and have pretty much just been lurking for a while.

The key thing with Quora, I believe, is that it 's a platform whereby experts can teach things to those who are interested in the knowledge they have. And since businesses can out spend or out teach (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2005/09/you_can_outspen.html) their competition, Quora is actually a free advertising platform where you can share your knowledge.

I think you're erring if you ignore the opportunity Quora is giving you, especially someone with your domain knowledge. You have a lot you could teach people over there.

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer

Censorship - anywhere, well, in my book, that's just wrong.

Anne Ryan
Anne Ryan

Quora seems to be more noise. There are enough tools to get answers to questions, but I'll check it out for a week or two and see if it is actually useful.

Does anyone know anything about Loffles.com or who's behind it? Looks like a new start-up, but the pre-launch effort is pretty impressive with the graph. Let me know!

FranchiseKing
FranchiseKing

Gini,

The folks at Quora are also nice enough to reward the folks that take the time to answer a question posed, thoroughly... with a nofollow link back.

JL

BobReed
BobReed

Great post, Gini. The "editing" part of Quora questions leaves me to believe that honesty and transparency aren't part of the equation here. The interaction between people can deliver clarity, which can be far more useful,

Todd Lyden
Todd Lyden

G- perfectly succinct way of explaining it. I quote myself a while from January on Quora:

"if you need someone to tell if it is worthwhile, then it probably isn't"

jgwhitt
jgwhitt

Great post. I think you're right, more of an insiders' club. In many ways, that is cool in and of itself because it becomes a more credible source for info.

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