A broader take on Quora

Quora is a new startup, founded by talented ex-facebookers, which is currently the topic of much discussion and investor lust. It is a Q&A based product that has done a great job of getting intelligent people asking and answering questions.

I am not a Quora power-user, but I do spend a few hours a week on the service consuming information, and actively contribute when I feel I have something to add. It’s a fantastic product/service that I’ve used to learn a lot of great information. If the Quora elevator pitch sounds like Yahoo Answers, it’s not. The difference is that Quora has done a damn good job of getting the right users to date and building tools that encourage them to participate.

Yahoo Answers (and similar services from that era) thought of themselves as platforms for users to find someone willing to answer or research on their behalf — this did a good job of getting mediocre to bad people involved in answering questions, usually for some reputation or monetary benefit. In contrast, Quora aggregates people around interesting questions and lets experts contribute as questions get traction. I think this is because Quora positions itself far differently from the find a decent answerer or researcher, here’s a quote from a Quora founder on how they think about the product’s value proposition:

I don’t think it’s any one thing, but it’s a bunch of little things. Part of it is the right audience. Instead of just Q&A, we think about this as blogging. Some people call it inverse blogging or reverse blogging. When you write a blog post, you write to your audience. When you write on TechCrunch, you know that these people are expecting techie news about startups.

When you come to a question page on Quora and it’s blank there are a bunch of people waiting for the answer. An expert will look at it and say “there’s an audience here and I know exactly what they want to hear. And I actually know about this stuff, or know enough to research and produce a really interesting piece of content, and it’s going to go to the perfectly targeted audience who opted in to hearing about this.”

The product reflects this view, questions are never really finalized or answered, they are simply active or not. The fact that each answer contains the ability to suggest edits, and that each question has a wiki summary are two components of this shining through. The feed structure is effective at effectively reflecting how active a question is and encourages engagement (and re-engagement) with answers to the most interesting questions.

I’m planning on posting a deeper look at why Quora might be a better blogging platform later this week, which is one of the reasons I love the service. I may also look at some other interesting use cases. If you’d like to help me (and others!) learn more about what makes Quora special, Answer “Why do you love Quora” as a question on the site. If you need an invite, let me know in the comments.

*Fun Question: Replace Yahoo Answers in paragraph three above with Mahalo Answers, does the analogy still work?