Last night I had a random thought. Why do some people develop a passion for scaling dangerous peaks like the Mount Everest or K2 given the likelihood of not making it back alive? I Googled it. Guess what? I gave up after fifteen minutes of reading gibberish.I posted the same question on Quora. I had to wait a few hours before getting the response but it was worth it. An ex-mountain climber and a mountaineering teacher responded to my question explaining how some Canadian climbers have a history of being social misfits, while others historically come from low income groups. I could write a paper on mountaineering based on the details in the answer.
In essence, Quora is a growing collection of questions with relevant, thoughtful and well-researched answers on almost any topic that you can think of. Widely known as the ‘knowledge network’, Quora seems to be a delightful indication of the beginning of the end of Google’s monopolization over search engines, at least in the search for very specific knowledge.
Earlier this year, Quora raised $11 million in funding from Benchmark Capital and was valued at $86 million. Since its inception in June 2009, and especially after going public in June 2010, Quora has maintained an unwavering focus on delivering high quality content to surfers.
Almost everyone has some sort of deep-hearted endearing curiosities that you do not feel comfortable discussing. Now you can anonymously express your crudest curiosities on Quora and receive thoughtful responses.
Quora has tapped into an interesting behavioural tendency of individuals to want to share their in-depth (or sometimes even exclusive) knowledge especially with those looking for it. The team behind Quora has coined the term ‘reverse blogging’ for this phenomenon. In blog posts, bloggers are typically addressing an audience with content that they deem to be important or interesting. On Quora, posters are addressing what is important or interesting to the audience, not to themselves – hence the term ‘reverse blogging’.
The striking difference between Quora and all other question/answer databases is that it maintains high quality content without placing any restrictions on the types of topics or questions posted. Quora has successfully maintained its campfire atmosphere despite its exponentially increasing size. Users can follow other individuals or topics that interest them, or direct their questions to particular members on Quora.
But how did this new and emerging company do what Facebook Questions, Google Answers, Yahoo Answers and many others could not?
In addition to effective moderation from Quora Administrators, readers have the option of voting for or against posts, which serves as a filtering system that brings quality answers to the forefront on any given question. Users can browse through the most popular questions and answers, which can be easily identified simply by the number of people following the question. While users can post answers anonymously, they must reveal their identity to vote, comment or flag posts to ensure against bogus voting or commenting.
By marrying quality information sharing (in-depth answers) with social networking (following topics and people), Quora properly incentives both readers and producers of content to establish their identities on the website. You can also private message people on Quora to ask a question or propose an idea. The website also deliberately lacks a central homepage to keep your world small so you can focus on topics or people that interest you.
Also, there seems to be no restriction to the type of content on Quora from animal sex to psychology of women (OK, these two might be related but you get the point). The team behind Quora seems to be ambitiously pursuing a universal database of information with no limitations whatsoever.
The question/answer format of Quora allows teachers to set up course-specific topics on Quora, thereby enabling students to ask questions online that can be viewed by current and prospective students. For future students, previously asked questions can help them decide if the course is in line with their interests.
Buyers looking for reviews and advice on purchasing products can use Quora to find reliable information. In fact there are already a large number of readers who purchase books only after using Quora to ensure the book is exactly what they want.
Looking at the larger picture, Quora can provide a platform for constructive conversations between any groups of people who desire it. It can serve to connect tech entrepreneurs, healthcare researchers and physicians with their patients, or admission counselors with prospective international students.
Having achieved low costs, Quora has currently focused all its attention on product development and left monetization for later. However, while targeted advertisements seems to be a very likely component of Quora’s revenue generation model, there are certainly many other lucrative options.
Quora’s quality of content qualifies for some component of paid-for answers or membership, like the Gerson Lehman Group does. However, this will require intelligent business development strategies; instead, a quicker source of revenue can come from corporations that can use Quora as a channel for customer service.
Further polishing the website and focusing on product development is likely to open up even more opportunities to generate revenue later on. However, like any for-profit entrepreneur will tell you, the true value of an emerging company is not established until profits start ticking in. For all you know Quora could privatize its massive database of questions and answers after the sudden disappearance of founders and co-founders.
Quora’s long-term success seems to be have been challenged with the massive influx of new users in the first half of January. Quora admits that preserving the character of the website has become ever more difficult.
The billion-dollar question: Will Quora be able to maintain the atmosphere of an intellectual and thoughtful exchange of information and opinions that are well-backed by reason? Or will the masses eventually reduce Quora to ashes with gibberish that dominates other parts of the Internet landscape?
To maintain its campfire atmosphere, Quora is committed to educating new users of the quality of language and content through quizzes that they must pass:
At the same time the founders of Quora also recognise that by virtue of hosting user generated content (UGC), the final product will eventually depend on the people who use and edit it. Keeping that in mind, the increasing popularity of Quora creates serious doubts whether common online phenomena such as political and religious arguments turning ugly, surfers losing patience and temper over opinionated issues and new users not caring about Quora’s campfire culture can be avoided.
Let me know if you would like an invite to Quora.