The Mobile Quora Experience


A few weeks ago on TechCrunch, I wrote a bit about the anticipation behind the launch of Quora’s forthcoming iOS app. While some still debate whether Quora is a blog or whether its PeopleRank v1.0 will be gamed, I am looking ahead to what I believe will be a very significant event for the young Q&A site. Because Quora is so text-heavy, this poses quite an engineering and design challenge.

A few days ago, it was reported on TechCrunch that a developer Thomas Ricouard had launched “Social Questions” for release on the iTunes Store for the iPhone and iPad (screenshot above). I gave it a whirl this week, and here are my reactions >> Basically, it’s not much different from the mobile optimized site for iPhone or iPad, with the caveat that Thomas created a nice red bottom navigation bar which makes it easier for the user to toggle from various basic Quora interactions, such as adding a question, checking the inbox, or your notifications. However, and this is probably because Thomas wasn’t allowed to, but the user then navigates back to the mobile optimized site (or the regular site on the iPad). So, this is what I would call Version 0.1 of an iOS app for Quora.

But, let’s step back and consider some interesting decisions surrounding any forthcoming app:

  1. Will iOS be released before Android?
  2. On iOS, will iPhone be first, or iPad, or both simultaneously?
  3. On iOS, what will Version 1.0 consist of?
  4. What will it look and feel like, more like a social networking site, a reader, or both?

Quickly, here are my predictions:

  • My sense is that iOS will be released well before Android.
  • I believe they will release an iPhone app before an iPad app (since the site looks good on the iPad as is for now).
  • As they iterate on the iPhone app, they will build an iPad app.

There are three main user activities for a mobile Quora application:

  1. Input
  2. Interaction
  3. Consumption

For input, users will input questions, answers, and comments. Inputting will be the most challenging aspect to the mobile app. Questions should be able to be uploaded via email (currently available), hopefully SMS (like Twitter does), and through the app. Quora can also “pull” implicit questions from certain Twitter users when questions are posed on Twitter but not input into Quora directly. The key will be for Quora to train users to input questions as users think of them and are on the go. They may have a question and might forget it unless they upload it immediately. As for writing quality answers, most users may not have the patience to write a thoughtful, long-form answer while on the go. This is a similar challenge that Posterous faced for mobile, though it seemed to find a great design for the challenge (screenshot below).

For interaction, mobile users can send private messages (like DMs in Twitter), vote, send thanks, share information through other social networks, and (un)follow certain topics, people, and questions. The activities will be pretty easy to incorporate into the mobile app, but what might make it difficult is that people on the go may not fully read each answer. On the positive side, the mobile app can give a user the chance to participate in basic interactions and also follow certain time-sensitive questions and catch up on them later.

For consumption, the issue is how text-heavy Quora is. Mobile users have now been trained to read lengthy tomes on their phones, so that is the good news. The challenge will be to make sure questions are the most current, but that should be relatively easy to solve compared to the “input” side of the equation.

Based on these preliminary thoughts, my prediction is that sometime in mid-2011 we will have the first iteration of an official iPhone and iPad Quora app. (I’d love to read any new ideas or thoughts, please comment below.)

The basics of my prediction are >> The app will look like the blend of a traditional social networking iPhone app (think: LinkedIn) combined with the design of a text-heavy news reader site (think: Bloomberg), where the user can select “channels” to view newsfeeds, where the channels are topics and/or questions. In the case of Quora, the app may have homescreen buttons a la LinkedIn to navigate from Quora inbox to notifications, etc., but also we can pick “channels” of people to follow or topics to read on the go. Of course, expect the Quora mobile app to be designed in a slick yet subtle way, perhaps on par with the style of Path’s iOS app.