Quora: Yesterday’s Hot New Thing?

The hot new social-media site at the moment is Google+, Google’s invitation-only attempt to set up a social network that will go face to face with Facebook. But the hot new thing six months back was Quora, a social-networking site that capitalizes on our age’s mania for crowd-sourcing. Quora’s gimmick is that users get to ask questions and also to answer questions posed by other users.

Two ex-Facebook employes, Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo, started Quora (named for the Latin plural of “quorum”) in early 2010.  After a gradual spread among Silicon Valley techies, Quorum began its great leap forward  near the end of the year, and by January 2011, the site had more than 500,000 registered users. Its coming-of-age moments that month were a Fast Company magazine article and a blog post entitled “Can you help with my Quora addiction?” by new media guru supremo Robert Scoble (a.k.a. the Scobleizer), who wrote:

So far on Quora I’ve answered 332 questions, mostly in the past month or so.

Now, some people are wondering why I’m spending so much time there and not on my blog. I’m having a tough time answering that, other than it’s easier to write when someone asks a question and it’s just hanging out there to answer. Plus, there’s the interplay of other people’s answers, the voting, the commenting, etc that I just wouldn’t get here.

It HAS become my main blogging place.

Quora logoAs a social-media teacher and consultant, I make it a point to try out any new site that looks remotely interesting. Turned on by the Scobleizer, I plunged into Quora and can now report on six months of results.

Let me say first that I like Quora. The very notion of being able to ask questions and get answers from people with expertise or passion on a given topic is appealing. So far I’ve received pretty useful answers to two queries:

Are there any romantic comedies made in the last 10 years that an intelligent male and female can watch together all the way through?

On Sirius Satellite Radio, how does one find out the artist and title of a song that is playing at any given moment?

Photo of actors in An Education

Question answered: an intelligent romantic comedy Carey Mulligan (left) in An Education.

I must admit that I’ve also enjoying playing the expert and whipping out quickie answers to questions that appear in my topics stream. To wit:

How can we help today’s impatient Internet generation read entire novels (e.g., using tech)?

My answer: Teach them that books in old-school print are a vacation from digital life. Sometimes, when the buzz is just driving you nuts, you shut off all devices and settle into a slower world – i.e., a novel. Also, books are marvelous soporific devices for amusing yourself before bedtime.

My biggest Quora disappointments so far are two questions I posed that have gone unanswered.

How many bloggers are there in the world in 2011?

What’s the best place online to publish a memoir?

My Quora stats to date: 5 questions asked; 4 questions answered; 34 followers; following 72. As you can see, there’s a problem here. Quora is a quiet, underpopulated place in my experience, reminiscent of one of those pretty Sun Belt subdivisions that have been under water since the mortgage crisis. Compared to the crowds on my Facebook and Twitter pages, there’s little action.

Photo of a partially completed Sun Belt subdivision

Metaphorically speaking, Quora is a Sun Belt subdivision.

This past week graphic designer Sacha Greif (out of Paris, France, no less) posted on the Attack of Design blog an interesting piece on “Why Quora Is in Trouble.” Grieif lays out four speculative negatives for Quora, all of which seem partly true to me, but none of which fully explains Quora’s lethargy.

Week after week I find myself dutifully returning to check out Quora, usually no more that once a week. Why so little? Well, first there are my two lives, personal and professional. I’m already carrying an hour-and-a-half-a-day newspaper habit, with an additional 30 minutes or so a day devoted to Twitter and Facebook - not to mention the book-reading thing and the blogging thing and the writing thing and the teaching thing. In the competition for my time, Quora is just not that compelling.

This is in part because both Twitter and Facebook have already established themselves firmly in corners of my brain. While I don’t see either as perfect, these two networks contain many more people I know or whose knowledge I value. The ratio of useful info gathered to time on site is better for both of these than for Quora.

Still, if Facebook were the 2011 startup upstart and I’d been doing Quora for three years, I’d never switch over to this new Facebook thing.

Note: if anybody has answers for the five questions posed in this piece, I’d welcome them in the Comments section.

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