Twitter’s Dicey Relationship with Q&A
Earlier today, Twitter announced that it had acquired Q&A site Fluther. Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch reported (link) the story and embedded an interesting chart, which I’ve copied below. The implication, of course, is that Twitter may be concerned that the rapid spike in Quora URLs that show up in a Google Trends search is a harbinger of things to come. Even a few days ago, my mind wandered to sometime in 2011 when the word “Quora” may be a trending topic on Twitter itself, though as recent Wikileaks news demonstrated, what may seem popular may not satisfy Twitter’s own trending topics algorithm (see Official Twitter blog post on this topic here) and Twitter does strip out commonly used nouns, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Whatever scenarios play out, one thing is clear: Twitter is concerned that its original strength — microblog posts limited to 140 characters — has created an opportunity for Q&A sites, mainly Quora, to capture its users in a variety of discussions that, when properly categorized across appropriate topics, adjusted for quality, and aggregated for synthesis, can result in rich, dynamic pieces of content that is very easy to search for and locate. The fear is that Twitter could be leveraged by Quora users to distribute their questions and answers without getting anything in return, and to add insult to injury, Quora may end up “trending” for a good while.
The logic on Twitter’s part to address this makes sense. However, there is a major structural difference in the way Twitter is set up versus Quora, this distinction will make it tough for any site, such the Fluthers of the world, to deal with. Quora users can not only follow an individual on the network, but also general topics and/or specific questions within those topics. That level of granularity for users to curate their consumption of knowledge better mimics the nuance of our relationships and interest in topics than the asymmetry of following individuals and/or newsbots on Twitter. For the Fluther team to compete, it would require either (a) an entirely new model of Q&A embedded into Twitter, which would be exciting to see, or more likely, though still really hard, (b) restructuring a Twitter user’s feeds to reflect a Quora-like layout.