July 15, 2010
@ 02:20 PM

I was reading Pandas and Lobsters: Why Google Cannot Build Social Applications... and came across the following statements

Now, consider the Four Horsemen of Hotness in 2010: Facebook, Quora, Foursquare, and Twitter. Think deeply about why none of these four could have been developed inside Google.
Quora is restaurant that serves huge quantities of
bacn and toast. Quora is a dozen people running dozens of experiments in how to optimally use bacn to get people to return to Quora, and how to use toast to keep them there. Bacn is email you want but not right now, and Quora has 40 flavors of it that you can order. Quora's main use of Bacn is to sizzle with something delicious (a new answer to a question you follow, a new Facebook friend has been caught in the Quora lobster trap, etc.) to entice you to come back to Quora. Then, once you're there, the toast starts popping. Quora shifts the content to things you care about and hides things you don't care about in real-time, and subtly pops up notifications while you're playing, to entice you to keep sticking around and clicking around.

Although I’m a regular user of Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook and consider myself to be fairly up on what’s going on in the social media space, I’d never used Quora when I read the article. Given that I’ve seen hype about it in various corners I decided to create an account and give the service a try. Below are some of my impressions

What is Quora?

The easiest way to think about Quora is that Quora is to Yahoo! Answers as Facebook is to MySpace. It is a Q&A site where users utilize their real names often linked to Facebook profiles as opposed to pseudonyms. It avoids game mechanics such as high score leaderboards and user badges that services like Stackoverflow and Windows Live QnA instead relying on people getting kudos from their peers in the form of endorsements and votes on their answers to motivate users to answer questions.

Why is Quora is so Hot

Quora seems to have started off as an invitation-only service which allowed them to cherry pick the original users to meet a particular demographic (i.e. Silicon Valley geek) and also carefully manage the initial culture of the site. What they’ve created is a place where members of the Silicon Valley technorati and wannabes can post questions and expect them to be answered by members of the tech elite including insiders at various tech companies. Quora is the kind of place where questions like What are the scaling issues to keep in mind while developing a social network feed? is answered by one of the people who built the original Facebook news feed and a random opinion like Should Mark Zuckerberg step down as CEO of Facebook and find a more seasoned replacement? gets a response from Blake Ross. There aren’t many places online where a question like What were the 4 or 5 key decisions that Larry Page and Sergey Brin made in the early days of Google? can get a serious answer let alone a well researched history lesson as well as some actual insights.

This site is pure gold for technology bloggers, journalists and Web startup geeks. It is unsurprising that these sorts of people would consider Quora to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Quora is a Community Site not a Communications Tool

One of the things I find weird about lumping Quora into the same grouping as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter is that unlike those sites it is not a communication tool. Facebook created a new communication channel between friends, acquaintances and family members that sits somewhere between brings together the functionality of email and IM along with the feed. Twitter created a lighter weight way to consume and create content for brands and people you find interesting as compared to blogging. Foursquare is about broadcasting your location to interested parties.

Quora on the other hand seems to have more in common with mail lists and discussion forums. Specifically, it is more like Metafilter, Digg and Reddit than it is like the aforementioned sites. This is a service that will live and die based on the culture of its community and is very dependent on "power users” who altruistically provide lots of value to the site in exchange for respect from their peers. The challenge for Quora is that it will be difficult to keep its current culture as it grows bigger. Will Facebook and Google insiders still be showing up in various question threads if the site grows to be as big as Yahoo! Answers with the same breadth of audience and volume of content? I can’t imagine that happening.

I also can’t imagine being able to segregate audiences like you can on communications services. Twitter has communities of mommy bloggers, tech bloggers, fans of various celebrities, sports fans, etc which operate independently of each other and really only are noticed by others every once in a while due to the trending topics feature. The same goes for Facebook and Foursquare. Quora will not be able isolate the various demographics from each other without changing the nature of the site. However they will have to figure that out once the current crop of users start logging in and seeing "how is babby formed" style questions because the site has taken off.

Then again, we might get lucky and the site never take off with the masses which may not be good for the VCs that have invested in it but would be for the community that has formed there.

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