Quora will one day become Yahoo Answers

Questions for Quora

An answer portal that former Facebook managers have built is the next hype in Web 2.0. However, the rush of new users eats away at the quality of the service.

Quora is currently on everyone's lips in Silicon Valley: The start-up mixes a conventional answers portal, where users can ask other users questions, with a social networking interface. The site has been growing rapidly in the last few weeks, which should also be related to the high quality of content and community so far. But that is precisely what is now becoming a problem: growing pains plague the service.

Quora began as an invitation-only offering in January 2010. The easy-to-use interface, together with the impressive Silicon Valley contacts of its founders, quickly attracted a kind of user elite - many came from the most innovative companies on the scene. This meant that Quora users could read the opinions of important voices in the tech world: From ex-AOL founder Steve Case, who explained the dot-com bubble, to Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz on the background to the film "The Social Network" to well-informed rumors about Google's planned social media strategy.

Quora also offers functions such as those known from the microblogging service Twitter: Users can "follow" one another and are informed as soon as people they know submit questions or answers. It is also possible to "subscribe" to certain questions or topics.

The hype is also so great because Quora was founded by two Facebook veterans: Adam D'Angelo, previously chief technology officer at the network giant, and Charlie Cheever, engineer and manager, who launched the important areas of Facebook Connect and Facebook Platform .

Cody Brown, founder of Kommons, a knowledge portal through which Twitter users can be publicly surveyed, praises the design of Quora. It is a place that is more structured compared to blogs and other social media tools. The design encourages contributions from users who would otherwise normally stay away from other social networks. "It's not like a conventional blog or Twitter where you stare at an empty field and then have to think about something." The invitation to participate therefore feels less narcissistic. This approach probably also generated a lot of content from "insiders", which in turn attracted more users.

Now, however, the question arises whether the level can be maintained. Eileen Burbidge, an IT investor from London who puts her money mainly in start-ups and was previously product manager at the answer portal "Yahoo Answers", fears that Quora could become a victim of its own success. "The quality of the content and the community and mass market success are diametrically opposed." She saw that at Yahoo: "From this very high level it will go down the more people sign up."

In order to prevent this effect from occurring, Quora must shift the core of its efforts from the technical area to the moderation of the content, believes Burbidge. "I can say it has already started because people are starting to complain on Twitter." Questions or answers would be hidden. The site also relies heavily on "real" identities that users have to prove with a Facebook or Twitter account. Burbidge believes that this also helps to maintain quality.

Yahoo Answers is now attracting more page views than any other Yahoo site, says the expert - even if many people there made fun of the strange answers and poor spelling. "For the size of the offer, quality and community are good," says Burbidge. However, the problem has always been to draw large sales from the popularity. This question is still ahead of the Quora makers.

So far, however, the expenditures are still limited: at the moment, fewer than 20 employees are employed. The company seems to be aware of the possible problems, as a statement by co-founder Cheever on Quora shows. It is already "a great challenge" to preserve the character of the offer. New users should be helped to fit in better. For example, before asking the first question, they have to take a short quiz that teaches them which question style is appropriate for Quora.

Cheever also wrote that the company wants to encourage quality discussions - with a system where users rate each other's responses to ensure the level is maintained. Then only the best contributions will be clearly visible. Quora is working on new moderation tools in parallel. But you don't want to control everything. "We can't fully determine how Quora will be. After all, at the end of the day, content is what people post and edit."

Kommon founder Brown also doubts that Quora can collect many users and at the same time maintain the quality level. His first own question, posted a year ago, already dealt with the topic: How will Quora scale when it is no longer just a "nerd party"? (Incidentally, the term was later deleted by other users.)

Brown still believes that Quora can change the web - without becoming a giant like Yahoo Answers. "I think Quora is more of a competitor of TechCrunch and other tech blogs and media outlets that have written about the service." A social question-and-answer site that focuses on specific topics - Silicon Valley centric or not - could replace other online media. Finally, Quora offers the opportunity to get in direct contact with important figures in the scene. (bsc)

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