Kapil Ohri

Introducing Quora.com: The new social media site

Quora.com, a fusion of question and answer website and social networking, is being touted as the hottest web company these days, globally.

A new social media website, Quora.com, is gaining attention these days. Consistently in the news in the international media circuit since the last few months, it has been featured in prominent newspapers such as Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and digital media blogs such as TheNextWeb.com and TechCrunch.com.

Introducing Quora.com: The new social media site
Many digital media addicts, including prominent internet entrepreneurs across the globe, have already started experimenting with and using Quora.com. Some of them are Dennis Crowley, co-founder, Foursquare.com (Quora.com/Dennis-Crowley-1), Evan Williams, co-founder, Twitter (Quora.com/Evan-Williams), and Steve Case, co-founder, AOL (Quora.com/Steve-Case-1).

Even Mark Read, strategy director and chief executive officer, WPP Digital has joined the site (Quora.com/Mark-Read).

Interestingly, Quora.com is labelled as the next hottest web start-up after Facebook and Twitter. The site is already sitting on venture funding of about Rs 50 crore, which it obtained from the investment firm, Benchmark Capital , in March 2010. Benchmark Capital is also an investor in Twitter.com and Zimbra.com.

Quora.com, which is yet to prove its worth, has been recently valued at about $300 million, claims Om Malik, founder of digital media blog GigaOM.com, in a blog post on GigaOM.

What is Quora.com?

It is basically a user-generated question and answer (Q&A) website with social networking features. Started by Adam D'Angelo (ex-chief technology officer of Facebook) and Charlie Cheever (former head of engineering, Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect) in the US, the site was soft launched in 2009 and opened up for the general public in July 2010.

Quora.com is currently based on the invitation model. To browse and ask questions on the site, the user will be required to get an invite from any existing Quora user before he/she can register and create a profile on it.

Introducing Quora.com: The new social media site
Once registered, the user can start participating in questions and answers, which are classified under various 'topics'. For instance, there are topics such as Market Research (Quora.com/Market-Research), Luxury Brands (Quora.com/Luxury-Brands) and Tata Docomo (Quora.com/Tata-Docomo). Users can post their questions on existing topics, or can create a new topic.

They can follow/subscribe to topics and individual questions (posted under a topic). This implies that questions and answers from subscribed topics will appear on the homepage of the user.

Apart from posting questions and answers, users are also enabled to vote answers 'up' and 'down'. Answers are sorted in descending order, based on the number of votes received.

Quora.com has a moderation team, which has laid down strict guidelines and policies for asking questions and writing answers. The team weeds out or vetoes the content that does not follow the site guidelines.

Social 'intellectual' graph

Unlike other Q&A (Questions and Answers) sites, Quora.com facilitates its members to create their own network of friends (social graph).

Other than following topics and individual questions, a Quora.com member will be allowed to add/follow other members of the site and create his own network on the site. Thus, questions and answers posted by the 'friends', whom the Quora user is following, will also appear on his/her homepage.

The site also permits its users to register and connect by using their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Members can even import/invite their Facebook and Twitter friends on Quora. When logged in from Facebook or Twitter, the user can share the questions - posted by them on the Q&A site - on Facebook or Twitter.

Members are also authorised to ask or direct their questions to a particular Quora user and send private messages to each other.

The curious gang

According to the audience measurement site Double Click Ad Planner, Quora.com has managed to rope in about 30,000 users in India. The average time spent by users (from India) on this Q&A site is about 12 minutes.

Worldwide, Quora.com has about 4 lakh-registered users, as per the traffic statistics revealed by the site in December 2010.

Interestingly, many Internet users (from India) are searching for the keyword 'Quora' on Google. India is ranked fourth - behind Indonesia, Singapore and the US - amongst the top 10 regions searching for 'Quora' on the search engine, according to Google Trends.

Not open for advertisers

The existence of a dedicated and loyal user base has not enticed the Quora team to open up for monetisation through advertising yet.

In fact, Quora has laid down strong moderation policies to avoid any spam or advertising-related content on the site. In its Guidelines and policies section, Quora.com clearly mentions: 'Questions that would make more sense as classified ads, like job postings or dating ads, aren't allowed on the site right now'.

Also, the site does not permit companies to create their corporate profiles and emphasises that all users of Quora have to sign up as 'individual' and use their full 'real name'.

As per Quora.com guidelines, "Individual users can add content (ask questions or write answers) as representatives of their firms and can state in their answers that they are answering on behalf of the firms (just like news articles with quotes from the public relations department of a company)."

The site also adds, "The rules of the site are that you have to use your full real name on your account. If Quora moderation believes that a user is not using her/his real name, the user may be asked to provide supporting evidence, including an electronic copy of supporting documentation (driver's license, birth certificate or passport) with personally identifiable information (other than name) removed."

The question of 'qualitative' scalability

Though Quora.com has won positive word-of-mouth and earned the interest of venture investors, various web experts have started raising concerns about its scalability and quality of content.

Introducing Quora.com: The new social media site
Many believe that as Quora.com gains in size, the quality of content - touted as its unique selling proposition - could suffer, as is the case with most serious user-generated content portals.

"I just don't believe that Quora will rule or become anything like Facebook or Twitter. It has been a very nice private club, but it's not for the general public," says Vivek Wadhwa, senior research associate, labour and work life programme, Harvard Law School, in his blog post titled 'Why I Don't Buy the Quora Hype', published recently on TechCrunch.com.

Wadhwa adds in the same blog post, "When there are hundreds of answers to a given question by people you have never heard of (often with fictitious names), how will you separate the wheat from the chaff? And, how will you distinguish fact from fiction? You certainly can't trust the rankings of the respondents when these rankings are themselves generated by Quora users."

afaqs! spoke to a few industry experts to find out whether it makes sense for Quora to open its platform to all web users or keep it closed/restricted to limited and serious users to maintain quality of content.

Robert Scoble, managing director, Rackspace Hosting and a blogger at Scobleizer.com, tells afaqs!, "It's a tough choice. I'm more on the side of open because for a Q&A site, to get mass market and to justify its huge valuation needs the involvement of normal people - not just Steve Case (co-founder of AOL)." Scoble is quite active on Quora and is followed by 18,000 users.

Sanjay Trehan, head, MSN (India), who has also started using the site, says, "The quality of answers will definitely suffer as more people start using Quora.com. However, if they keep Quora closed/restricted, it will defeat the very purpose of co-opting large masses of consumers in content creation."

Introducing Quora.com: The new social media site
Trehan further adds, "The key to quality, however, will be the usage and efficiency of filters, both technology and human-based. They have to ensure that the right people comment on and write answers, like in the case of Wikipedia, which has very little filth."

Rajnish R, co-founder, Althea Systems, too, feels the same. Says he, "As long as a Q&A site (for example, Quora) allows the user to log in using his/her Facebook or Twitter account, so that one can see the real identity of the person, and the platform can weed out people giving bad answers or trying to game the platform, it will work fine." Althea Systems runs a social video browser named Shufflr.tv.

Waiting for the answer

The question 'Can Quora.com scale without compromising the quality of content?' will be answered only in the future. Until then, it seems that the site has the potential to create a niche for itself in the social media ecosystem, which lacks a serious, long format, original and credible discussion (text) platform.