A Longer Response to @vwadhwa Post on Quora

UPDATED Sunday night:

Many people have contacted me about this post below and about the furor over Quora in general today. A few things up front:

  1. I have contributed a few posts to TechCrunch and I do not receive money for those;
  2. I am a fan of Quora and am biased to a degree, though my final TechCrunch post forthcoming on Quora will talk about the challenges facing the site in 2011, and will do so from a real user’s perspective
  3. Vivek makes very good points about highlighting some of the shortcomings in Quora’s incentive system; and
  4. What I’m writing below is an agnostic attempt to address many of the assumptions that Wadhwa made in his article.

I also had requests to elaborate on some of the points below, which I’ve now done. Finally, some have requested numbers — I’d love that, too, but I don’t have access to anything other than standard metrics, such as Alexa rankings, etc. Thanks again to everyone who interacted. ~S

There are some interesting nuggets in Vivek Wadhwa’s post on TechCrunch today about Quora. Let me say first that he’s right to highlight the holes in the voting incentive structure, but other than that, here are some reactions to why many of his assertions in the piece may have false premises:

  1. Many more than a “few tech elite” have contributed content to the site. I have interacted numerous times directly with professors, businesspeople, and a professional cook, all around topics other than tech, and more than once.
  2. He underestimates the power of asking “silly questions” which can in fact also be fun. He also assumes that Quora is just about questions and answers. Silly or esoteric questions connect people in random ways that we just don’t know about yet. People could connect around secondary interests, or interests they discovered through the site.
  3. He asserts Quora is a “private club” but in actuality, that was Quora’s Alpha and Beta. It’s OK for sites to invite small groups of targeted people to use the site and for the entrepreneurs to run a series of experiments.
  4. There is no need for Quora to be the next Facebook or Twitter. It’s a false comparison. Facebook and Twitter fill completely different needs, and after Quora, there will be another type of social network that taps into another need. There is room for more than what currently exists.
  5. He seems to be channeling on his own experience of receiving anonymous comment attacks by writing on controversial topics. This assumes that Quora the company isn’t aware of the gaming that can be done and won’t address it. I can sympathize with him here, as I’ve received a few nasty comments over the past month (especially from someone who will render this point quite ironic), and those messages can be scary in a way, sometimes. It’s easy to see how one could take an uber-cynical view about forums and chat-room behavior, but that’s also seriously underestimating what the team can do given their talents.
  6. He mentions separating “wheat from chaff,” but doesn’t talk about aggregated knowledge, like answer wikis. This leads me to believe he hasn’t used the site as much as he asserts.
  7. I’m pretty sure Quora stops fake accounts right from the start – one person, one Quora account, or the account may be suspended. You can search Twitter for “Quora block” and see lots of people bitching that Quora shut down their account because they wouldn’t use their real name. His fantasy of anonymity within Quora is misplaced.
  8. Silicon Valley does jump from fad to fad, but I’m not sure if that logically means Quora will be a victim of that behavior; they might succeed because of it. I liked his thoughts around what kind of hype system and echo chamber the Valley can be, and it’s great to have someone write about it intelligently, but attacking a company to prove his point struck me as reckless and had the effect of drowning out his argument. Why not just write two pieces, one about the hype machine in general, citing many examples, and then one about Quora? By combining the two, the good points he made will be harder to cull from his piece.
  9. The comparisons to Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers are apples to oranges. First, it assumes that Q&A is the only activity that will happen on the site. Second, the value of Quora is not and will not be measured through unique visitors and number of users. Quora users are highly segmented. Third, it assumes that the Quora team has not studied this, which I’m sure isn’t the case.
  10. He hasn’t signed up for a Quora account. He claims that he has used it and received “substantial input” to educate him on the space prior to his article, but just on Friday, my screenshot below shows that he’s in my list of people I should invite to Quora (see below, and yes, I forgot how to take a screenshot!). He may have been lurking under another name, but I can tell by the arguments he tried to make that he hasn’t used the site more than perhaps parachuting in from time to time.