I finally heard about Quora enough times (I suppose I reached my contagion threshold) to make a profile for it a week or so ago, and I ended up exploring it in depth today.
Quora is basically a site that lets you ask questions and answer other people’s questions. Facebook also just recently released a feature called Questions that seems sort of similar. While Quora hasn’t put limits on what kinds of questions you can ask, the bulk seem to be about technology and startups, probably because of the types of early adopters who are using the site.
Quora is interesting to me because it’s basically enabling people to share knowledge. In a way, it’s like Wikipedia, but with a seemingly smaller barrier to entry. While Wikipedia has some harsh rules on how to edit an article, Quora is centered around questions and answers on various topics. You can literally sign up and answer questions within a few minutes.
As with any great piece of social software, Quora seems to work because it makes the right things visible, which gives incentives for people to keep contributing. Personally, I see it as a way to build up my online reputation as an expert on a number of subjects. It’s interesting because the incentives to use the site are baked into the site itself. It’s easy to see who has answered many questions, who has a lot of followers, who has been “endorsed” by others, etc. With this system, pretty much everyone wins. The question askers have their questions answered, the answerers get the glory of answering a question well, and even users who do neither can still benefit from reading good answers to good questions.
Another neat aspect of the site is that there are many users who could be considered “internet celebrities” or important in some other right. There are many founders of companies and other execs who go to the trouble of answering questions about the companies they founded. This is cool because users are all sort of on the same level (or at least have the potential to be). Think of the opportunities if you were one of the first 1000 people on Twitter and could have great conversations with the other early adopters.
From playing around with it a bit today, I’m very impressed and excited about Quora. By comparison, I just goofed off on Facebook Questions and unlocked the Rickroll Easter Egg (ask “How is babby formed?”). Quora still has a few things it could do better (like make it easier to find really great answers to really great questions, perhaps older ones) but even now it seems like a great tool. With the right attention to detail and community, I feel like it could be the next Wikipedia in terms of social computing success stories.
Oh, and here’s an example of a really good answer to a question: Why is Facebook creating a Q&A product to compete against Quora?