Quora’s challenges

Over the weekend Vivek Wadhwa put a post up on Techcrunch titled Why I don’t believe the Quora hype which has kicked off a bit of a storm in the blogo/Twittersphere (perhaps predictably given the number of self professed Quora devotees, and Vivek isn’t shy of courting controversy/publicity).

A couple of weeks back I wrote about Quora for the first time, noting its recent rise in popularity and also that as its popularity grows the management will need to evolve the way the site operates to keep the signal to noise ratio in balance and (related) to keep it an interesting place for techie A listers to keep sharing content.

Vivek hits on the same points, arguing that the signal to noise ratio will inevitably get out of balance which will drive the celebs away.  By extension he argues that the site will fail to adapt:

I believe that the excess hype is destined to make Quora a victim of its own press.  The quality of answers will decline.  The people whose opinion I value, such as Quora’s #1 respondent, Robert Scoble, will simply stop posting on the site when they get drowned out by the noise from the masses.  They will turn away after having their posts voted down (so that they look less important than their peers) and being personally subjected to the types of mindless, anonymous attacks that you see in the comments section of TechCrunch.

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Quora says it will educate users on its policies, guidelines, and conventions and that it will moderate answers more effectively….. but ……. You can talk about your own products and services, and disparage others’; in other words, it is a spammers’ paradise.  How is Quora going to manage hundreds of thousands—or millions—of unruly users, when even the mighty Google seems to be losing the battle for spam?

For me these two challenges remain significant, particularly in light of Vivek’s point that to succeed Quora will not only have to deal with an influx of people and answers, but also of spam. 

Most of the commentry on Vivek’s post takes issue with minor arguments he makes and ignores this key one.  An exception is in the (inevitable) response from Robert Scoble, which he appropriately enough put on Quora.  You will have to scroll down to find his answer, but if you get there you will see that he makes the great point that the larger the audience the more he wants to write for them, thus as Quora grows it becomes more attractive for people like him.  Where that might be less true is for people like Ev Williams and Denis Crowley, founders of Twitter and Foursquare who responses to a question about SXSW launches on Quora I wrote about a couple of weeks back.  For guys like Denis and Ev spending time on Quora when it is cool and exclusive is most likely very different to when it is mainstream, by which time it will be just another media/PR outlet.

It would be interesting to see some thoughts on how Quora are thinking about the problems of evolution and how they might adapt.  So far the only ideas I’ve seen have to been to educate the users, which, whilst important, will not be enough.

Finally – Quora will have to keep the site functioning, which is a real challenge because there are a lot of realtime elements.  My Facebook feed this morning was full of people moaning about Quora being slow.  In a funny kind of way I think that being slow might be more of a problem for them than being down was for Twitter – slow kills the user experience more than ‘come back later’.

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  • I’ve been following Quora actively for a while now. I’d like to provide a few details regarding the context of Vivek’s article. As you pointed out, the two blogs championing Quora the most are TC and Scoble. This article it was simply an attempt to balance the Quora hype on TC. In the recent weeks, they’ve been posting daily about the service, with readers becoming more and more vocal in the comments. It made sense to have a counter point at that timing.

    I posted a similar analysis 3 days before on ReadWriteWeb, with some answers to the questions you raised: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/how_can_quora_balance_quality_and_openness.php

    Interestingly, the resulting Quora thread (is that the one you were referring to?) shows what was described in the post: low quality answers, mass upvotes. http://www.quora.com/Quora-Quality/How-can-Quora-balance-openness-and-quality

    I really enjoy using Quora, but the spam tactics used by power users there are really degrading the service.

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  • Thanks for the comment Ramine. Just posted this in reply to your RWW post

    Hi Ramine – nice post. Qura needs to do something and slowing down the velocity somehow is one way to reduce the noise, probably the best way, which is what I think the bulk of your suggestions are about. Steve Johnson’s Emergence is my face book on this topic. He has a great case study on how Slashdot evolved.

  • Q&A is really hard to get right (just look at the poor quality of Yahoo Answers).

    I haven’t yet “got” Quora. In the subsegment I pay most attention to (games), it has already descended into pretty basic, dull and low quality answers to equally low quality questions like “What’s the best RPG”?

    (Low quality not because it isn’t an interesting question, but because on the web, that’s an invitation to a flame war.)

    Without a *lot* of work, I think Quora will just descend and descend in quality over time.

  • I agree. The thing that gives them a chance is that the science behind the ‘work’ they need to do is increasingly well understood. Interestingly I think it may be at odds with seeking maximum growth in the user base.

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  • But Nik, Robert Scoble doesn’t need this audience–he has a strong enough following. If he continues to get disparaged as he did, he will turn off. That is not good for his ego or public image. Look at all comments from people telling him what to write. Bottom line: lets wait and see what happens.

    At least we agree on the signal to noise ratio. That’s progress! 🙂

    Regards,

    Vivek

  • Ramine, I too got sick of the constant banter. I thought I needed to speak up.

  • If Quora can maintain its value as a platform for Scoble then he will keep using it. At the moment it is valuable because it is shiny, new, and hyped and has a reasonable audience. Most of that will go as it grows and but I can just about see a future where Quora is a good platform for Scoble to push out his thoughts to an audience declaring themselves as interested by topic as well as by person. I think it is unlikely though, and that overall the Q&A market is better operating as a series of niches than one giant conversation.

  • Hi Marc – you are right, social media doesn’t replace the need for face to face and other more traditional forms of communication, it augments it and makes it possible to maintain higher quality relationships with larger numbers of people.

    Best,
    N

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