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Quora and the big “what if”

I’m reliably informed that every day, Google serves about 3 billion searches globally. I didn’t count that myself but I’m taking it on good authority.

But what if instead, every query was saved as a unique page accompanied by hand-researched and written answers created by a community of curators?

What if questions were semantically tagged to show the most popular related queries, giving a quick idea of what’s important about a subject beyond the Wikipedia question of “what is it?”

Could something like that offer an alternative to traditional search engines?

What if instead of contributions from infighting nerds, an AOL question received an answer from the former AOL CEO or a question asking why the Facebook Places icon looks like a four in a square gets an answer from the designer?

*Spoilers* I’m talking about Quora

Quora has got a lot of people wondering about “what if”s recently and rightly so. While it’s important to always start from a position of healthy cynicism, you’ve got the imagination to consider whether there’s some substance under the hype as these tools come along. But most importantly you have to immerse yourself in them to understand the value clearly.

When people question it’s likelihood to succeed versus the likes of precursors like Yahoo Answers, the line in The Social Network springs to mind where Zuck says “if they invented Facebook, they’d have invented Facebook”. If important details made the difference we see today between Harvard Connect and Facebook, then it should be easy to see how they could again.

Some further thoughts:

  • It’s nice to see a platform where your ability to provide genuinely useful content builds your reputation rather than the faux-measures like follower numbers. Also great to see a distinction between curators and the content creators.
  • Users aren’t just forced into an environment of endorsement and instead are trusted as moderators. There’s something deeply obnoxious about the one dimensional nature of the Facebook Like button.
  • I wonder if they’ll need further semantic systems beyond tagging and how this may affect their success as linked data’s influence spreads. Could they be gazumped by someone who took that area more seriously?
  • Celebrities provided the “jump-on” point for mainstream media and users to get their heads round Twitter. Has Quora been kicking off in the tech/social/PR community because our “celebs” are on there answering questions? Will the lack of control put off celebs, delay mainstream adoption and stunt Quora’s potential?

Wikipedia’s collaborative knowledge
+  Twitter’s Retweeting endorsement system
+ Facebook’s newsfeed

= Quora

What if they pull it off?

By Max Tatton-Brown

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and MD of Augur, and has written for publications including the Guardian, Sifted and TechCrunch.

3 replies on “Quora and the big “what if””

The biggest problem with Quora seems to be noise already, the topics mean different things to different people. Looking at the topic “Television” there are already questions about the nature of TV business as well as someone asking what the best value 42in TV is! In Communications there is the old tension between telecommunications and PR over who uses the word.

I’ve wondered for some time if there is money in answering questions like Quora but exploiting the relative authority and quality of a Wikipedia approach. Wikipedia articles are articles written by people who (probably) know something about the topic and they are refined by people who also claim to have an understanding of the topic. Quora has a thousand voices shouting into the dark and gets a few answers back, but you have to distinguish the ones that are actually useful and those that are actually authoritative. I don’t see Quora self-organising and while I LOVE the concept I think it will only get muddier over time because there is still something inelegant about their solution.

Thanks for the reply Bob, can definitely see what you mean- hence my question marks on if they need to add in more semantic information.

It’ll be interesting to see if the answers get more clearly defined over time as well as how quickly it can adapt to changes which may affect an answer. e.g. if someone dies but an answer referencing them is the top voted, how long will it take for it to be replaced?

I think there are options in there to edit like this but getting that power up front might make it hard to displace the top answers. Time will tell!

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