Quora’s Clean Room of Answers
I think I finally understand Quora, the social question and answer site. The part I understand is the appeal to users. Essentially, it’s a site where you browse around for questions you think you can answer, and/or you view interesting answers.
That last part was what hooked me. I stumbled into answers by AOL’s former co-founder and CEO, Steve Case. Holy cats. All kinds of people had asked really hard questions of Steve, and he took the time to answer them, and now me, just stumbling into it, had all kinds of amazing information about the heyday, the decline, and everything in between, about AOL.
I too have been exploring, taking my cue from the Mashable article Why Quora Will Never Be as Big as Twitter. It was a brilliant title and subject. Well of course it won’t be as big as Twitter, but even being in the same breath certainly makes it very interesting. Maybe interesting for Mashites, but still…My own path into Quora was less question browsing, or people noting (certainly a huge potential draw for the site) rather was question asking. At the time I was working on some marketing strategy and among problems I was having was remembering an Excel formula and process I learned about a year ago. I loved the jump-right-in question bar at the top – which incidentally functions as a topic search not something immediately apparent – and within hours got informed attempts to find a solution, and a sense of comradery among the users. Question answering is a particular kind of social interaction which (when best) the dignity of the questioner and the answerer is affirmed. A great germinating basis for a social network interchange.
My brief experience there lead me to some over all impressions of the site in terms of its feel, the distinct sense I got that it was a genuine “space”, almost a clean room of answering. Much of this is captured in the comment I left over at Chris Brogan’s:
What I find most interesting, or perhaps, what is most suggestive for growth, is that there is a very strong interaction aesthetic there that they have been successful in establishing. It is just this kind of thing that promotes an anchored community of users and growth, a real sense of environment. Part of it is the simple, clean aesthetic (in vogue these days), and part of it is the rigorous testing for reading comprehension before asking a question, high language standards (without much exclusionary snobbery) and the repeated emphasis on grammar, distinguishing it from a vast number of other internet spaces. These thresholds which seem pretty firmly monitored – a grammatical use of “concatenate” in an Excel question I had (?!) was edited by a etymology maven – and then re-edited after a check with with the OED, coupled with the UI, create the dictionary-of-questions feel that really might be appropriated and fused to other media and resources.
That seems to be the double path: build a sense of community with committed users expressing an aesthetic, and make the result harvestable and linkable by other media services. Will it be long before Quora questions top Google organic searches?
If this can be coupled with the brush-with-knowledge experience of knowledge celebrities that Chris found so striking, and the Twitter-like tunneling into the interesting lives of otherwise sealed-off persons, there is room for huge development here. I do think though that this requires the upkeep of its already rigorous pruning, at the language and content level. This vine needs to be cut back continuously to produce the very sweet fruit required for social media wine.
Addendum (1/13): And more Quora love from SocialMouths.