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What’s So Special About Quora?

Submitted by on January 25, 2011 – 9:14 amNo Comment

I rarely do product or service reviews here but, as with Posterous, I am occasionally moved by something remarkable.

Quora is a site that allows users to post questions for a community to answer as best they can.  Nothing new there.  What interests me for this post is how Quora has put new life into a fairly old concept.

The information design deserves a bit of spotlighting because it is what  impressed me right away.  Here is a sample page:

What’s going on here?  In this single, elegant page are so many ways to engage an audience around a question.

1. The topic and categorization are crisp and clear:

You can quickly navigate to focus on questions related to Foursquare or Public Relations.  You can quickly find your community of shared interest.  For my part I am interested in Foursquare as an exemplar of what is taking place with location based services and mobile.  I can easily find and drill into this area of interest.

2. Social media is a distributed communications network – each viewer has an option to publish the question with their personal network of contacts and, in so doing, expand Quora’s audience.  Quora fully capitalizes on this by leveraging every possible way to get this question exposed to more viewers:

3.  Quora understands the nature of questioning, giving you multiple ways to “follow” the progress of a question that is being “answered.”  In fact, many of the questions on Quora do not have a definitive answer, they are more like an unfolding narrative from multiple vantage points.  They are opinions.  Following a question will allow you to have emails as the answers come in.  The ongoing answering is often more interesting than just the winning answer.

4. The  image capture below also shows how, like Amazon, -or any other savvy, content-rich site – Quora always provides you with a next step – another place to go based on what you might be interested in.    It is a simple and ageless truism on the net: – never give people a dead-end.

5. Below you can see that Quora heeds Dave McClure’s timeless rant, “The Faces, the *FACES*… it’s *ALL* about the Motherf**king FACES!”

Human beings respond to faces.  We associate with them much more than text and we remember them.  Here Quora uses my avatar to associate with my question.

6. Trading on the concept of social currency (people care deeply about how they perceived in any social structure and will go to great lengths to enhance their status), Quora allows you to build reputation in their system by answering questions and commenting.  They also allow you to have a bio so people can learn more about you after reading your answer.  Not coincidentally this also serves to increase the quality of answers in my opinion.  Finally, Quora allows voting to determine the winning answer.   There is something at stake when you answer a question.

7. Quora also allows anonymous answers which is a double-edged sword.   In the first case anonymous posts can encourage trolls (but when will the net ever be without trolls?).   However allowing anonymous answers can also allow internal sources from a company to post in relevant cases.

Finally, metadata about the question itself is exposed, showing you activity and popularity of the question itself.  This is valuable when trying to assess where topics and questions sit on the trend-line of interest .

The lessons I take from Quora:

First.  Social Integration (a horrible phrase but…)
Quora is social – not just from a technology perspective of integrating with various platforms (Facebook, Twitter etc.) to extend reach, but it also trades heavily on how and why people contribute to community – it leverages the hidden  economy of sharing, reputation and status seeking.  It is also building itself around a tight cluster of people to begin with (silicon valley from the feel of it).

Second, Information Design. It isn’t just what you do – but how you do it that matters.   Social Integration is what makes sense today — how Quora does it is what makes them special.   I spent the early part of my career as an information architect, designing the labeling, navigation and structure of early ecommerce sites.  Back in those days you could pretty much guarantee a huge lift in conversation rates (sales) just by redesigning the online path to purchase.

Finally, the big lesson: There is Always Room for Innovation.    We are just at the beginning of the digital shift and we haven’t come close to understanding all of the mechanics of solving problems the right way.  Just as Yahoo Answers clearly was not the only way to crowdsource answers (hence this post on Quora),  eBay is not the only method to conduct an auction, Wikipedia is not the end-all for compiling an online encyclopedia.   There are thousands of improvements we are yet to experience and I tip my hat to the people at Quora for believing there was better way to get things done.

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