Musings on Quora

By January 7, 2011Blogging

imageAs you have probably heard Quora has seen a big increase in signups and activity since Christmas.  The chart to the left shows the massive growth in Quora signups.  It was posted yesterday by a Quora employee.

I first signed up a few months ago and whilst I asked a couple of questions and participated a little I didn’t get too much out of the service and went off to focus on other things.  Following the Christmas spike and some encouragement from Scott I’ve been on the site again much moren and now I’m starting to get it.  This time round I’m finding more useful content (this week was the first time I wrote a blog post that was inspired by content on Quora) but more importantly I have enjoyed the addictiveness of the near real time responses.  When you are active on the site writing answers, leaving comments and following new people the responses you receive keep showing up in your inbox in the top right hand corner, which keeps you on the site doing more stuff and stimulating more reactions, and so the circle goes on.

Real time is hard to engineer but the power of instant gratification and impact on dwell time that should be useful is not lost on entrepreneurs everywhere, I’m sure.

There are a lot of other smart things about the site as well – e.g. a beautiful UI, the DIGG like voting mechanism and the ability to follow topics and questions as well as people.  Mark Suster explained these smarts and others in a good post back in August 2010.

The one nagging doubt I have relates to the productivity of time spent on the site.  Right now I think it is still more efficient for me to pick up interesting news and analysis from Techmeme, a few key blogs and Twitter.

The two bigger questions on my mind are ‘what does Quora mean for me as a blogger?’ and ‘will it scale/last?’.

Taking the second question first – the challenges for any question and answer site as it scales are maintaining the quality and maintaining the self moderating power of the community.  In a post yesterday Mashable wrote:

Before the influx of new users, each time I logged on I was presented with useful content that was relevant to me. It became an addicting experience browsing through the top questions and chiming in when appropriate. …. As more users recently signed up and began contributing to Quora, there has been more noise and less value.

To solve this problem Quora will need to change the rules governing which content goes into feeds to keep the relevance high, but they will have to do that in a way which lets new users have a voice.  Quora will also have to deal with the inevitable backlash from existing users against the newbies who are crashing their party, and I was interested to see that a Quora employee yesterday put up a post titled Please be kind to new users.  If they don’t get this stuff right new people won’t join and the old guard will go off to the new new thing.

One of the great strengths of Quora is the quality of the old guard.  The post I wrote on Wednesday was a response to answers left by the founders of Foursquare and Twitter and there are many people of that stature who are active on the site.  Finding a way to keep them engaged and benefiting from the site without getting swamped as the number of users grows is also an area where Quora will have to come up with a bit of magic.

On the assumption that Quora continues to grow I think it will have a big impact on the blogosphere, mostly because it is an alternative destination for people who are looking for the sort of insight that writers like me put out on blogs.  Moreover, in many ways it is a superior alternative partly because it offers a better experience as detailed above, and also because it allows everyone to participate on a more equal basis.  Whereas on blogs there is one or a small number of authors and everyone else is a commenter or reader, on Quora it is easier to move between the different categories – in particular you can leave the occasional answer or ask questions without the overhead of writing regular content on a blog and building a base of readers. As Fred Wilson has noted on multiple occasions (e.g. here) services which make it easier for people to have a voice are powerful.

On a personal level I still prefer writing here than on Quora, mostly because I am better able to choose my own topics.  One of the reasons I blog is to get my own thoughts straight on a topic (e.g. what I think about Quora), and then get smarter as people comment either on the blog or on Twitter/Facebook.  The other reason I blog is to build awareness of what we are doing here at DFJ and with our portfolio companies, and my strong suspicion is I still have more reach here than I could get on Quora.

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