Quora. You might have seen the name being bantered about lately, especially if you have been anywhere near the Internet. It is the current darling of Silicon Valley and the overly tech savvy. No doubt if your business is involved in social media, technology or any related business, your boss has likely suggested you start figuring it out and putting it to use helping your company grow and get its message out there. Despite hours of research, however, you might still be scratching your head wondering exactly what to do with it. If you do figure it out, you still might not get out the results you want for the amount of effort you need to put in. In fact, there are currently a number of sites which provide a similar knowledge base service and require much less effort to navigate.
So why should you care about Quora? Because it exists.
Anyone who knows anything about social media knows what we have today is not going to last. Too many competing web sites providing too many overlapping services can only mean one thing: Technological Natural Selection. Before too long, many of the services we have all learned to incorporate into our personal and professional lives are going to go the way of the dinosaurs and the dodo bird. What rises from the ashes will be a conglomeration of the best features, adapted from a multitude of what are now the most popular sites. Just as Facebook did with Friendster. Quora is the next step in the evolutionary chain as far as technology and social media goes. It is meant to be a useful knowledge indexing tool, a data base of information provided by users, reviewed by users, edited by users and flagged as useful or not by users. Think of a Twitter feed with only questions and relevant answers.
So far Quora has made a name for itself by attracting some very well known individuals who have provided other Quora users with a behind the scenes look at their work. Quora was co-founded in 2009 by Adam D’Angelo, who quit his lucrative job at Facebook to start the new site, and Charlie Cheever. Initially it was mostly being used by people familiar with the Silicon Valley scene. By December of 2010, after a few news stories recognized more and more high profile people, like Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Foursquare director of business development Tristan Walker, Pandora Radio founder Tim Westergren and even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, use of the site grew exponentially.
Unfortunately, the plethora of new users means the value of Quora’s content is likely to decrease. Already Quora users are seeing a spike in the number of planted questions, answered in a positive fashion by the companies that planted them. What could be better than a site that lets you ask yourself a question you would like to answer instead of a question which might cause you harm?
Quora is reminiscent of the early days of Wikipedia. An entire encyclopedia of ideas provided, posted, edited and reviewed by users. Everyone remembers the early days of Wikipedia when the information that was posted was sometimes right, sometimes wrong but always entertaining. Unless you were on the receiving end of the misinformation some people seemed intent on flooding the site with. Eventually the site had to severely limit the ability of its users to make entries, subjecting every entry to a vigorous vetting and fact checking process. This made the site more useful for the rest of us, but also made it less likely to tell us something we didn’t already know. Wikipedia is no longer full of insider information, just facts.
It seems very unlikely Quora will avoid this same fate. Opening the site to questions from all users and relying on these same people to provide all the answers is a recipe for disaster. It is only a matter of time until the site offers more misinformation than it does useful information. Until then, however, companies and individuals looking to be a part of the next big thing will find it useful. For everyone else, however, they will need to wait until the next-next big thing comes along; until Technological Natural Selection winnows down the choices and only the best, made from the best pieces of what had previously been the best, remains.