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What’s with all the Quora Hype?

Posted on : 11-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media, Technology

Tags: , , ,


Have you heard of Quora?  If not you have missed a lot a hype reminiscent of Friendfeed and other social media websites that we have been excited about in the past few years.  I, like many, tried to resist the hype but eventually was pulled in.  So what did I think?  Did I see value?  I guess I saw something, or I would not be writing this today.

First let me describe Quora for those who have not had the chance to check it out.  Quora is basically a website where you can ask questions on virtually any topic and members of the community will try to answer them.  Many times you will receive multiple answers and the community will vote up the best answers or, if necessary vote answers down.  You can easily search the large quantity of questions that have already been answered.  If you are like me and like to check out specific topics, you can easily do that through the tagging system the website has in place.

So why did Quora take off in the first place?  Most likely it was due to the quality of responses, and those who took the time to answer.  One of my favorite responses came from Steve Case, former CEO of AOL.  The first question I noticed he answered was regarding the cost of all those CD’s that AOL seemed to mail out every day.  He also took the time to answer that age old question ‘did AOL purposely make it hard to cancel service.’   Another favorite was about the reason for AOL’s shift to unlimited or all you can eat pricing model.  I was very impressed by Steve’s transparency and willingness to participate.  If you have time check out some of Steve’s responses.

I have seen many other notable people taking the time to answer questions, including the CEO for Netflix, Reed Hastings, as well as many notable people from the press, business, books authors, entertainment, etc.  The list really goes on and on.

Now is Quora all that and a box of chocolates?  Not yet.  What makes it exciting right now is the quality of answers and the caliber of the participants.  As it scales this could prove difficult.  There is one thread asking best speakers in social and it just goes on an on because the best speakers are defined by the audience, the topic, the event.  I posted a few, but I did not include someone like Dan Roam.  What you have not heard of Dan?  He is incredible speaker who talks about using drawings to better engage your audience.  Through his website, http://thebackofthenapkin.com, he has changed the way videos are done.  Back to Quora.  The user experience on the website is okay, but I am sure will improve over time.  When you start to type a question in the question field at the top of the page, similar questions show.  You can easily then click on them.  I have had the page lock up at times, as well as server slow downs, and links not working.  I do not think it is easy to understand when you are following topics, or all the notifications.  With all that, I applaud them at this early iteration of the websites, and the number of slowdowns are not too bad given the huge growth that I have seen for the website.

Like many social websites, I have heard the founders talk about how they are focusing now on building the best possible website and they will think how they can best monetize it in the future.  I have always thought this approach, used by entities like Google, Facebook and Twitter is not always the best way to go.  As an example I have always felt that Twitter will have trouble monetizing for the same reason they were able to grow so fast.  Basically their open API (the reason there are many different tools available to use) made it easy for tools to be built, but without control of where your user interacts, you will struggle making money with advertising.  Promoted tweets are a nice idea, but since everyone knows they are an ad, they do not always interact.  For Quora I see a potential to make money by licensing it to businesses to use.  Let me explain.  Over the past several years I have seen activity in help forums around the net decline.  The reason this is happening is many of the same people who hung out in forums, like to also hang out in places like Twitter and Facebook.  It is difficult to hang in too many places, so many have decided to hang with their tech friends in the same space they hang with the guys they have beer with on a Saturday night.  The other trouble is forums are typically restricted to one website.  So if you had trouble with your internet service provider, but the trouble could be with your router or the model computer you use, the answer may be in the computer manufacturers forum, instead fo the cable provider.  I have said for years that forum providers, like Lithium and Jive should find ways to better connect these conversation, which I think they are working on.  At the same time, if I used a help forum for business 2 Consumer, I would already be in conversations with Quora, and I would possibly consider replacing my forum with this updated answer site.  I think it would be much more Consumer friendly.  I also think Quora could quickly be on the path to making money.  Do not believe me?  Check out this bank website (they are not in operation yet) and the link (you have to scroll all the way down) to their companies Quora page.  I doubt they are paying anything for that, but obviously there is potential.  I also see great potential for companies to take a Twelpforce (BestBuy has people helping people on Twitter with products they sell) type method to start helping people with topics important to their business.  It is key to know that self advertisement is not permitted and at this time Quora does not have a means for business to participate.  I think this was shortsighted, but they want to avoid spam and make this about person helping person.  I think they should consider an option for authorized people from businesses.

The key for Quora is to continue to improve the user experience, and once the newness factor wears off, they need to make sure they do not go down the path of other answers websites, and have spam take over the answers.  The moderation now is working well but it must work the same as people try to find means to circumvent the system.  I also worry about attention span.  How many places can you hang out?  I find it tough enough to blog, tweet, Facebook and do my normal offline tasks.  Can I handle another place?  Twitter and Facebook will take the attention of time for many, but Quora is better than also visiting 3 or 4 forums websites, like I do today.  I do wonder if Quora and Twitter found a way to link up, how powerful they could become, but that is a conversation for the future.  I do think Quora will be a game changer as they mature their business and find the core community that will help them win.  I for one will be cheering them on.