To Quora or Not to Quora – That is the Question

As a woman with many hats, I’m always interested in new programs, platforms, sites and information. Therefore, anytime something new comes along, I go test the waters. I like to see what’s under the hood, start it up and take it for a test drive. I sit down with my team and discuss whether it’s something we might use in our future.

Lately, I’ve been testing a lot of social media platforms. Consequently, I get to engage in a lot of conversation. Ironically, one of the strongest ongoing conversations is about keeping the conversation going.

Now, social media has limited resources for conversing. Really – think about it. Twitter gives you a measly 140 characters to play with. Facebook gives you more, but has so many niche markets and noise, it’s easy to get buried. There’s always LinkedIn, but that’s another tough nut to crack – especially when you’re busy with Twitter and Facebook.

I can’t say we’re in complete control of our social media and channels yet; we have yet to really grasp Facebook by the horns. Our community has grown by 200% over the past month, but it’s taken a lot of time and hard work. I’m not going to ditch our two biggest social media platforms, but I’m still looking for the next worthwhile platform, and Quora is the newest on the “try out” list.

Where Inquiring Minds Run

The Wall Street Journal describes Quora as, “a question and answer site that encourages thoughtful – even long-winded – discussions.” They called it the place “where inquiring minds run”. Sounds like my kind of place.

It wasn’t the article that brought me in, though; it was an invitation. Like most invitations, it sat in my email for a week before I dusted it off and followed the link. It was the buzz, and I got curious. On Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, more and more people were talking about this new Q & A site.

Facebookians Turned Quoraites

Back in January 2010, two former Facebook employees had a dream. Their dream was to have a place where people could share their questions, get answers and, in short, have in depth conversations. It was a beautiful dream, turned into reality.

The company line is that users can vote on answers, which pushes the answers up and down according to the number of positive/negative votes (think “bumps”). Therefore, the best answer goes to the head of the class.

The reality is a little bit different. Yes, users can vote on answers, but there’s no guarantee the answers are correct. They’re raised in rank based on popularity, not accuracy.

The Quora Experience

Not that this image is indicative of my Quora experience...

After reading and watching for about a week, I finally linked my Facebook and Twitter accounts. This is supposed to make it easier for me to get topics and meet people I might be interested in. It also makes sharing from platform to platform easier.

After much thought, deliberation and procrastination, I took the leap and asked my first question: “Social media influence – what do you use to measure your/anyone’s online influence? How important is it?” I had official begun my participation on Quora.

Nothing happened. Crickets chirped in some far off, deserted field. I had posted on December 19th, so it could have been something to do with timing, but I thought it was a great question. I was on a quest to get answers from the group and looking for someone to respond.

Here, I had heard all these wonderful accolades that Quora was going to be the messiah in social networks. So what happened? Well, maybe I didn’t have a strategy behind my question. Or… or… maybe it wasn’t posted correctly.

I was excited about finally finding a place to build ongoing conversations, but I found the interface daunting. I couldn’t understand where, what or how I was going to communicate with people. Once I started really looking around, it seemed more like a flexing hall for people to post their answers.

I mean, Quora sounds simple, but you have to guess what you’re doing. Asking your first question isn’t as simple as ask and go – you have to ask the question in a certain way. You can’t, for example, address the answerer.

Another example is the voting. Instead of a “thumbs up” for a positive vote, it’s a tiny triangle pointing up. You can see if an answer has any votes by a number next to it, but what’s with the triangles? Who instinctively knows that an up triangle means a positive vote? Being in the business, I do but trust me when I tell you a lot of people don’t.

Within a few weeks, Quora emails started bombarding my inbox. Sure, I could have turned off the email alert, but I had to find it first. I thought things would finally calm down. Instead, I found myself biting my tongue on some of the answers I got back.

Quora – Not So Friendly After All

Please release me...

As an Italian, I invited a few of my Italian connects to Quora to see for themselves if they could benefit from it. Most understand English well, but they didn’t want to embarrass themselves by writing in broken English. Innocently enough, they wrote in Italian – and here’s where the story goes down hill and I get pissed off.

Not only did the “chosen ones” on Quora remove the topic, but they also bombarded everyone with comments about how the site is strictly an English site. Where is that? Oh, I forgot. You can’t find it, because it’s buried somewhere under another tiny triangle or something.

The people I invited didn’t go around Quora posting Italian responses to all and sundry. They posted answers to my questions – and I happen to be able to understand Italian. I think I should have a choice here on whether or not to except answers in another language – don’t you?

Well, not so fast, Popeye. When I said as much, I was bitch-slapped by a PHD and accused of having a tantrum. After finding the humor in the situation, I had to look at his profile. There it was – a 20-year-old something kid with a white judo outfit, studying for his PHD.

All in all, the whole fiasco was offensive. They removed all those questions – the entire conversations. Now, this is where I find it extremely intrusive. I know I’m not the best writer in the world, and I may sometimes push the envelope. To have one of my discussions removed completely – along with a good 20+ answers – seems over the top, but, that’s just my hot Italian opinion.

Although things have calmed down (mainly me), I’m still trying to decide if Quora is right for me. Like a lot of people, I’m more likely to read what other people wrote than ask my own questions or respond (unless asked a direct question, that is).

Conclusion

In my opinion, what’s missing is the human element – unless you count the many so-called “helpful” people editing my day-to-day conversations. Much like Wikipedia, Quora has administrators that can and will delete or alter your answers. By the way, SEO is capitalized, people… it’s an acronym.

Listen, I don’t want someone editing my daily conversations. I don’t want someone deciding what language I use; I want to be able to communicate in Italian, French, Arabic or any other language my community is using. – And no, I don’t see how it adversely affects the quality, sorry.

Look at Twitter, who adopted several languages once the world started knocking on the door. I’m proud to say I was part of that change. Yeah – I like Twitter just fine.

Am I going to stick around Quora? Don’t count on it… let them fit it out. Maybe I’ll stick to figuring out how to really use Facebook or LinkedIn and keep our Q & A there. Maybe I’ll spend some time focusing on our blogs and tightening them up for better engagement. Wherever I’m going next, though, it’s not Quora. In conclusion, I know there are lots of Quora fans and if you happen to be reading this I would love to hear what you have to say…

PS I found the conversation & wanted to share it here with you

Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, etc any site (I use) on the internet should be in any language the user needs it to be. Personally I try to write to my followers in the language they understand. I don’t think it would be a big deal if people could not understand my question unless they are the intended readers.
Personally, I don’t like going against the grain but in order to continue connecting with Italian and French users I see nothing wrong with communicating in their language.

Mr. Phd’s response

If you do so, with Quora as it is, the tags such as ‘Facebook’ or ‘Twitter’ —that are followed by thousands of users each— will become unusable, leaving most users with as little social discovery as there is on Facebook and fractioning the site entirely.

You now have the choice to keep on with your tantrum, take the risk to offend far more users then you’d accommodate (and most likely be banned before that) or you can *wait for proper features* to accommodate your legitimate demand, but impractical schedule.

About Gabriella Sannino

International SEO consultant is my title...but who cares about those? What I love is, writing about marketing, social, SEO, relevance, ruffling feathers and starting revolutions. What you read on this blog, will hopefully inspire you to continue the conversation. When I'm not multitasking around Level343 I sneak away and go sailing. I'm crazy about pistachios, and of course Nutella.

Comments

  1. Cristine Nichole says:

    whoah this weblog is magnificent i love reading your posts. Keep up the good work! You understand, a lot of individuals are looking round for this info, you could aid them greatly.

  2. I hear you Ricardo, good luck to them. I do wish them all the best. I would hate for any company to loose or close down. But, they are effectively turning a lot of people off. If they can afford to do this, than maybe they have a “model” in mind and we should move on with our lives. I know I have. I will admit though this morning in my email I received a new alert about 44 new follows on Quora. I wonder if this post had anything to do with it? ;) lol

  3. Ricardo says:

    Worst of all, is discriminative. You can’t get in unless you are invited. ¿How many smarter people aren’t there? At least smarter then the founders of Quora.
    Besides the subjective answers anyone could get from there, some times “Gurus” have little time off and their answers may be of a lower quality than when they have plenty of time and will to answer. You could ask the same question to the same person six months later and probably the answer will be different.
    This project made a typical mistake, starts with the world standing still, like a photograph, but it is more like a movie, but of infinite dimensions.
    Good luck though to the founders for risking their asses following their limited, in my opinion, dream.

  4. I discovered Quora through one of Distilled’s webinars a few months ago, and fell in love with it once I got past the unintuitive UI. I witnessed a few instances of moderators being a bit arrogant, but nothing directed at me (so far).

    I was a big IRC user over a decade ago, and even though Quora isn’t real-time, as IRC is, it reminds me of all the time I spend on the freenode network helping strangers out with their HTML and CSS questions.

    I’ve noticed a rise in the number of people there only to namedrop their company or product, and I can see the moderators becoming overwhelmed as mainstream Internet users invade.

    Quora boasts a lot of intelligent and cool people that are keen on engaging on all sorts of topics, but Quora needs a splash page that clearly spells out the basic rules of engagement and the concept of the site to prevent confusion, because it sounds like they just lost another great addition to their community!

  5. Oh, dear. I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with Quora – I had no idea they were doing so much un-useful “editing.” I have found discussions on some technical topics helpful. But I can see how the ant-international bent could be infuriating. Talk about arrogance.

    FYI, I joined Quora when you put something or another on Facebook.

  6. Spot on!

    But, you should have waited to see their ridiculous review policy!!! Some posts wait for the kind gaze of reviewers for weeks ( for no apparent reason)!

    The discussions are mostly VC/ start-up centric. Got bored after some time.

    Quora acts like prude snob uncle under its “cool” disguise. Unfortunatley people just go by brand name/ techcrunch mentions, so people who matter are there !

    LinkedIn answers are good, but Quora has taken all the cool quotient.

  7. Maria :P Grazie, sometimes I wonder why more people aren’t as passionate as we are? lol All kidding aside though for example, if I wanted to respond to you in Italian avrei il diritto di farlo. (I would have the right to do it) That’s not to say I am disrespecting everyone who reads our blog but if you couldn’t respond to something you feel very closely about in a language you feel comfortable in then what’s the use? Where is the community? In conclusion I still cruise over to my account every so often and notice I have so many followers I wonder why?

  8. My Italian temper would have flared as well. Your point was valid their response pompous, insensitive, haughty… I began using Quora for a bit and found it to be such a waste of time. The majority of answers were so basic, and many were marketing/sales/ buy my product content.

    Mia amica anche io sono in accordo!

  9. I tried it also, then quickly dumped it. Don’t really find it all that useful, like a glorified broken version of Yahoo Answers really. They eventually disabled my account because they said I wasn’t using my real name, I was. The few times I did use it I found a royal pain, really a pile of bullocks if you will.

  10. Lyena you are right I didn’t even think of their attitude as “un-American”… Wow that makes sense in light we’re already dealing with prejudices on a daily basis in our lives but to add it to a virtual world? I didn’t even see that. Their argument is it would not be fair to others who do read or write another language. A lame excuse for saying you cannot grow a community of French, Italian, Russian etc. on our site

  11. Hey Mr. T, it’s settled I kept thinking maybe others can make their way around this thing. But now I see you of all people noticed this to… I’m outta there!

  12. I am sorry, Gabriella, that you had such terrible experience with Quora. If a site is available internationally, they should be prepared to handle different languages. Saying, that it is only for people who speak English, frankly, is un-American. Especially, because Quora guys are here, in the Bay Area, where population speaks a mind-boggling number of languages.
    I have not visited Quora in a while. I cannot figure out the benefit of following people if I do not get notification of my friends’ activities. I do not have time to go to the site every day and check things out. And, as you pointed out, it is not very user-friendly. I might use it for some keyword research, but that’s about it.
    And you can write on my Facebook wall in Italian, Arabic or whatever language you like. :)

  13. Terry Van Horne says:

    Ok so in 15 years Quora is easily one of the worst interfaces to a service I have seen. Not only did it automatically follow Facebook friends it was intrusive to do so without “fully informing” me exactly what they were doing. Like you I couldn’t figure out much and def wasn’t about to spend time “learning” how to use the interface of a site. I want that 15 minutes of my life back! It’s a study in usability…. that’s a fact!

  14. lol Scott I am not a betting woman, but for fun, how about we take on a friendly wager? I say they will survive but it won’t be as popular as lets say Yahoo Answers in 2012… that’s if the world is still around by then ;)

  15. I didn’t give quora one tenth of the chance you did. I didn’t like the popularity contest vibe I got from it.

  16. Omg you Josh, not give “quality” comments? Why the nerve :P lol Bottom line is you are absolutely correct it’s a flexing ground for people who need one more place to regurgitate their knowledge. Which trust me, I am all about leaving a crumb trail of my wisdom but, give me a break who made them editor of the year to remove my words of wisdom? I cannot tell you how many people I respect in the industry that I have spoken to about Quora have the same attitude. Experts, and Gurus they ain’t ;)

  17. Awesome piece Gab. I had a few questions deleted as well, which I can only assume they are doing just to keep the site full of “quality” content. My thing with Quora is that it’s just repetitive information that’s already out there being regurgitated by the followers of known industry leaders to pass themselves off as “experts” or “gurus”.

  18. I had written a detailed comment on our Facebook Group about this article, but it has been deleted (technology’s mysteries, I suppose).
    I think that the lack of the human element is too important to be ignored: the internet is populated by humans, who want to find what suits their needs as easy as possible. Otherwise they move on and alternatives are not few.
    In my opinion Quora will have, because of a massive promotion, more and more visitors but less and less (actual) users.

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