I still run into people who like and/or use Quora but still think of it as simply a “Q&A website.”
I have to say this again — Quora’s question and answer feature is just the tip of the iceberg. To the average consumer, yes, Quora is a robust service. That’s great. But, there’s more to Quora than the pretty interface. I’d highlight two characteristics specifically that truly make Quora a cutting-edge technology company:
One: Behind the Q&A activity, Quora may be undertaking a massive semantic web project, where it encourages proper grammar, long and thoughtful answers, and site structure to tag pages with rich meta data to train its machines to learn language. (You can read more about this here.)
Two: Quora’s own internal development of frameworks, specifically LiveNode (LN) and WebNode2 (WN2), put this company in another class of technology endeavors. Earlier in 2011, Phil Whelan wrote a very thorough assessment of Quora’s technology stack — it’s a must read and touches on LN and WN2, too. (I’d highly recommend this piece, click here.)
Briefly, Quora created LN and WN2 to help solve a technical problem it faced. With more and more users on the site and updating questions in real-time, Quora had to build a framework solution to help them render updates and improvements on the page without losing any performance, both for the user and for the people who work to build the Quora. The result is that, for consumers, we are able to view pages on Quora that evolve in real-time with little or no friction, as the site is constantly updating. And, the result for the company is that the frameworks are so robust that it requires less (wo)manpower to maintain the site. In other words, in addition to being highly sophisticated, it is cost efficient, too.
Right now, we don’t know much about LN and WN2. Quora has little incentive to open itself up in this way or to open-source the software, though it seems to be a powerful recruiting tool for computer science standouts. I hadn’t realized until this weekend that LN was developed internally. If you’ve ever followed a popular question unfold on Quora, the site is able to change and upload with such ease that it actually feels alive. That, to me, is incredible.
Imagine if a site like Twitter were able to harness the flexibility of these frameworks — it could make real-time information even that much cleaner. Without knowing much of the details behind Quora’s framework, the few technical people I have talked to recently, including a friend on Twitter, Paul J Campbell, remarked that, to their knowledge, LN and WN2 are the best of breed framework for real-time user-generated content sites, and that in and of itself, could be a major contribution to the future development of the Internet.