Is Quora the next Internet sensation?


Social media, especially in the form of Facebook, is now a permanent part of our daily lives. While many other social media services have faded away in the shadow of Facebook, there have emerged a few exceptions, most notably Twitter which is doing well. Is Quora another exception?

We’ve seen how Friendster and MySpace, once dominant social media forces, have become also-rans. That’s because they went head to head against Facebook.

Twitter didn’t, which is why it managed to survive and indeed thrive. Facebook has some 650 million users which is incredible but Twitter is doing well too with about 175 million users.

LinkedIn, a professional or business networking service which has about 85 million users, is also doing well. In fact, it might get listed this year.

Foursquare, a geolocation service, has also generated a lot of interest although whether it can survive now that Facebook has launched Facebook Places is questionable.

The thing that all these services – Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare – have in common is that they each serve a special niche.

The lesson here is if you want to survive in a sector dominated by Facebook, you have to carve a niche for yourself. And that is precisely what Quora – a Q&A site with social media features – is doing.

You’re probably familiar with Yahoo! Answers, which is a place where people can post a question and anyone can provide answers. What makes Quora different is the quality of its users and the social media elements it contains.

Unlike Yahoo! Answers, which is a mass market site where anybody and everybody can post questions or answers, Quora started off as an invitation-only service and the initial batch were all Silicon Valley insiders.

As such the quality of the questions and answers was very high, and not to mention very skewed towards techie stuff.

Quora has social-networking features reminiscent of Twitter. Users can “follow” one another and receive notifications when people they know submit questions or answers.

They can also follow certain topics or questions to keep track of new content. You are also notified whenever someone follows you and you may be prompted to suggest topics for someone who starts following you.

Like Twitter, a list of users who you might want to follow is suggested in Quora. But it’s worth mentioning that only people who have created accounts can browse the Quora site. This differs from Twitter, which can be visited and searched by anyone regardless of whether or not they have a Twitter account.

There’s also a bit of a crowdsourcing element to it as well. Users are able to vote up and vote down answers based on accuracy and quality.

Although it’s not foolproof, it’s a good way for the audience to assess whether an answer is good or not. If the answer has a lot of positive votes, logically speaking, it should be a good answer.

Main challenge

The main challenge Quora faces is how to maintain the quality of the content now that it’s open to the masses (it’s no longer by-invitation only so you can go ahead and register to become a member). Once any user-generated site goes mainstream, there is bound to be a dilution of quality.

But Quora is doing some things to avoid becoming another Yahoo! Answers. Its emphasis on real identities – users can only sign up using a Facebook or Twitter ID – may help combat a reduction in quality.

Another measure they are taking is to require new users to take a quiz on what makes an “appropriate” style for a question on Quora before they can post any questions. This is to maintain consistency.

Will it work? It’s possible. Look at Wikipedia. You’d think that an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit would be a recipe for disaster but it’s actually turned out quite well.

One thing really important that Quora‘s got going for it is that the culture and ethos of the site has already been set. Its initial members were serious industry folks with real identities. Not anonymous users.

This will set the tone for others who join in later. So, I would say it’s got a good chance of maintaining quality.

Quora is still very new. If you want to be an early user of this site, here’s what you need to do:

a) Register. You can do this using your Facebook profile or Twitter profile.

b) Start asking a question by typing in the search box at the top right. You’ll start seeing suggestions for questions that have already been asked (and possibly answered) begin to grow and change as your query continues.

c) You can also add your own answer to an unanswered question, or improve on an already-answered one. If you think an answer has been too highly or too lowly ranked, click it up or down.

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