Sometime this year, Quora will rollout “PeopleRank,” their anticipated algorithm to rank users for answer quality and community behavior. Some elements of this are already in play on the site, which is what happens when you happen to answer a question and your answer may or may not appear in the middle instead of the bottom of the thread. Part of what excites people about PeopleRank, and what frankly scares them, is that it is yet another step by a major social network to rank users and start to build an online reputation. This began with LinkedIn, extended into blogging services, catapulted to mainstream with Facebook and now Twitter, and now sites like Quora are getting into the reputation game.
As of March 2011, Quora doesn’t itself make any judgments about users on the surface. Instead, Quora lets users judge others by themselves, perhaps by linking to other social networks in order to make their decision. On my account, another Quora user can link to my Facebook or Twitter accounts. But, curiously, I am not able to link my Posterous blogging account (they support WordPress and Tumblr), my Foursquare account (which is fine by me), and my LinkedIn account (which seems most curious). There’s no reason for Quora to link to Foursquare, as those are totally different networks. With respect to blogging, Quora does support two of the biggest blog networks, and while Posterous is much smaller, some of the thinking there may be to perhaps siphon off some of that traffic and compete. The space occupied by Tumblr itself is worth serious money, and Quora is much, much more.
But, what about LinkedIn, the one network, well before Facebook, that basically owned the online identity space for years and still holds very valuable real estate and data on most of us? Why doesn’t Quora allow users to add this network so that other users can see common connections? One reason may be that LinkedIn has its own question and answer area, so that may be competitive. Another explanation may have to do with how different the Quora brand is versus the LinkedIn brand. But the real reason may be that there is a turf war brewing to own online identity and reputation, and because many believe Facebook provides for authentication but not reputation, and because LinkedIn has the data to rank within groups and Quora could, that portions of these sites may be competitive down the road.