What Is Quora? Seven Answers from Adam D’Angelo and Marc Bodnick

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exhausting and discouraging. The technical and cultural barriers raised against newcomers are high, and even the tiniest change to a Wikipedia article can prompt a “revert war” with the site’s established clique of volunteer editors.

“You can make it very difficult to contribute, you can set up all these rules you have to follow about what can go into an article and having a neutral point of view and citing every source, and you can get into fights with other editors—if you are willing to have a very small percentage of people ever contribute,” D’Angelo says. Such restrictions may be unavoidable if you’re trying to build an archive of established facts on notable subjects. But if you’re interested in gathering experiential knowledge, they just get in the way, he says. “I think [Wikipedia] gets great results for the area that it covers, but if you want to get the other knowledge that is out there in people’s heads, then you need to make it easier.”

For people who want to participate on Quora, there’s a big blank “Add Your Answer” box on every question page, and all you have to learn in order to write an answer is how to operate a few text-formatting buttons. Once your answer is published, other Quora visitors may take issue with it, but they can’t delete or edit it just because it’s heterodox. Says Bodnick, “Wikipedia takes an anonymous, consensus, single view—‘this is what the community of editors has decided that you should know about Mozart’—whereas Quora allows multiple perspectives.”

Also unlike Wikipedia, Quora requires contributors to use their real names, so that readers can gauge their credibility more easily. “When you let people use fake names, you allow them to engage in adversarial behavior that deters others from writing,” Bodnick says. “But when you require people to use their real names, it forces them to think about their reputations and the consequences of their actions. It keeps people civil.”

4. Quora is not just for asking or answering questions.

There is one place where anonymity is allowed on Quora: you can submit a question without identifying yourself. Which means that if you’re trying to drum up interest in a topic that hasn’t been addressed yet on Quora, there’s nothing stopping you from submitting a question and then answering it yourself.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that Quora doesn’t frown on this use of the site, unless the answers aren’t useful or are purely promotional (in which case they’ll probably be downvoted anyway). “We encourage people to write their own questions, because they know better than anyone which questions they are best qualified to answer,” D’Angelo explains. “We don’t want you to write questions that are like, ‘Why is Calafia Café such an amazing restaurant?’ when you are the owner of Calafia. But we do want people to write, ‘What are the hours that Calafia is open?’ and then answer that.”

D’Angelo and Bodnick also like it when public figures go on Quora to make announcements or react to news stories. One recent case involved a dispute over an anecdote about Dell that Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has reportedly used in his books and speeches about innovation. According to a Forbes magazine article, Christensen argued to an audience at a 2011 Gartner event that Dell had spun off too much of its hardware design work to Taiwanese manufacturer Asus, eventually allowing Asus to overtake Dell with better, cheaper computers of its own. One user went on Quora this May to ask whether that version of the story was true. The question elicited an answer from no less a personage than Michael Dell. “This may make for a good story but it’s not accurate at all,” Dell wrote.

“Sometimes if you want to make a public statement about something, or set the record straight about something, it’s easier to just write a short answer to a question on Quora than to issue a press release or publish a blog post,” D’Angelo says. “It’s a pretty effective communications channel for some companies.”

In another break with its identity as a question-and-answer site, Quora introduced a new feature this January: blogs. Anyone can set up a blog on Quora, and their posts will be highlighted in Quora’s search results and feeds right alongside all of the site’s other content. (By feeds, I mean the personalized e-mail newsletters that users receive, as well as the question lists that users see when they arrive at the site.) Other users can upvote the posts, just as they would with answers.

The idea behind the blog feature was to help writers tap into Quora’s distribution system, without having to conform to the Q&A format—and, of course, to keep building the Quora knowledge base. “What we have found is that many people love Q&A but some people want to share knowledge that is in more of a presentation form, not prompted by questions,” Bodnick says.

The benefits of posting on Quora rather than a personal blog can be dramatic. When a Silicon Valley designer named Tim Smith posted to his own blog about the time his British sports car broke down in Steve Jobs’ driveway, the post attracted exactly six comments. When he reposted the same story on Quora, in response to the question “What are the best stories about people randomly meeting Steve Jobs?,” he got 300,000 page views, 7,800 upvotes, 114 comments, and 215 shares.

“If you are a writer about parenting or medicine and nobody knows who you are it can be really hard to get a following,” Bodnick says. “But if you write a great answer or post that people agree is interesting, you will get tons of distribution because of upvotes. We will give you supercharged exposure.”

5. Quora is not a business—yet.

Quora doesn’t collect revenue from anyone, for anything, and D’Angelo says he is deliberately avoiding spending a lot of time thinking about how to begin. “Sometime in the next year we will start to experiment with it,” he says. “In the long term, this is a business, and we fully intend to make it profitable, but it’s a decision for now to focus on growing, so that later, when we do make money, there are more users to work with.”

D’Angelo’s detailed reasons for leaving the business-model question unanswered are straightforward. First, he says, the company’s 60 employees have their hands full solving engineering challenges that go along with a 300 percent annual growth rate. “There is a lot of work we have to do just to keep up with the growth,” he says. “That is not easy, and that has to take priority over everything.”

The work is mostly about making sure the service runs smoothly as more people join Quora. Generating a unique, personalized home page for every user means bringing together a lot of data from a lot of servers very quickly, which gets harder as more users and more data enter the system. Then there’s all the indexing, ranking, and machine learning needed to match people with questions they can answer and topics they’ll find interesting.

The second reason: focus. “It’s just nice for the company to be focused on growth and on users right now,” D’Angelo says. “It makes everything a little bit more efficient. It means all of my time can go toward that. There will be some distraction cost [from business questions] later on, but I think we’ll be able to afford it when the company is bigger.”

D’Angelo feels that Quora has room to wait even longer than Facebook did before coming to grips with the revenue question. Its infrastructure costs are … Next Page »

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  • http://www.nixonvs.com/ Nixon Virtual Strategies

    What bugs me about Quora is this: people really have no idea how to use it and so they are not asking questions that lead to thoughtful answers from others. For instance, someone asked a question about why the W in the Word with Friends logo is incorrectly valued with a 5. Another question I saw on the same topic of Word with Friends is “Is the Words with Friends team considering adding a feature that lets you get definitions for words people played that you may not know?”

    These are NOT the kinds of questions Quora is even worth bothering with. That’s a Google search and/or a direct email or letter to the company.

    Could you kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a pistol? I like that example question you used. While silly, someone with the right background and understanding of firearms could give an intelligent answer. But since few people give any thought or inquiry into what Quora is for and the types of questions best answered there, it’s a wasteland of almost “unanswerable” questions – or at least questions that don’t warrant time answering because it’s so obvious the answer would be easily sought in other ways.

    We don’t need another Google and the questions I currently see being asked don’t require a forum for an answer. I know you can’t make users do what you want them to all the time even if they do read instructions, but perhaps some moderators or something. Because if I had the time myself right now, I’d just Google a bunch of answers and paste links to the Google search in just about 80% of the questions I am seeing.

    So right now, Quora is not entertaining and I think the majority of people there are missing the point entirely.

    • Ryan Reichlin

      i agree and luckily this has already been partialy solved by only questions that pertain to your user history will show up in your “feed” and if noone upvotes the question it will effectively die off. but consider the Lowercase N in seven eleven logo and 5 for w in WWF these question resemble facebook statuses hoping someone will think you are soo kool for noticing it and seeking recognition ( think about it this kind of social interaction no matter how petty IS one of the things that makes FB so popular and might just work for Quora) so there might be alot of useless unanswered questions on this sight but there are still alot of notable ppl answering.

      • http://www.nixonvs.com/ Nixon Virtual Strategies

        Thank you, Ryan, for chiming in on this and reminding me I’d posted this.

    • Craig_Hubley

      A lot of this is probably users “gaming” the system, asking and answering pointless questions to rack up “credits” they can use to ask specific users other questions. The whole scoring and credit system seems like a failure.

      Early or first answers seem to get many more “upvotes” than others, particularly if they are not “downvoted” immediately out of sight (do a search on “Quora downvote cabal” for more on how this may be organized among elite users). It’s a sort of variation on the old “first post troll” on Slashdot.org which used a similarly failed ranking system, where it costs nothing to rank every single answer, and the rewards for multiple users conspiring to downvote or upvote overwhelm the non-conspiring users’ opinions.

  • http://freemusicformormons.com/lds-ward-choir-music roger pack

    How in the world does quora attract experts to answer questions? Just because it’s fun or what? I mean they have serious experts answering this stuff LOL.

    Speaking of which, I believe this article would have been better written as an answer to a quora question “what is quora” LOL

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  • frank

    I think this article answered the questions of what Quora is, and what it isn’t.

    • Craig_Hubley

      It’s out of date now (March 2015). “300 percent annual growth rate” is false and probably was false at the time, given that Marc Bodnick disputes the industry standard traffic numbers and essentially makes up his own.

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  • Frank

    I looked at quora for a while, and then lost interest. The answers there often reflect the US worldview too closely to be generally accepted.

    • Hannah

      There is a very large Indian population that is very active on Quora.

      • Craig_Hubley

        But they don’t “moderate”. ;)

    • Craig_Hubley

      Agreed. One example is that, worldwide, US conservatives (which in the real world means those who vote for and donate to the Republican Party, regardless of what ethics they personally profess) are perceived as being directly responsible for torture, apologizing for it, promoting it, and keeping the pressure on the US Attorney General not to prosecute oh say Dick Cheney for it. Intellectual figures such as Ben Carson, who have basically no credibility in academia and little even among the “conservative pundits” themselves, are nonetheless the ones who actually seem to lead policy on this.

      As conservatives are not willing to withhold votes, donations, apologies or otherwise from the party that initiated and continues to explicitly support torture, it should be a fair statement to say that “US conservatives support torture” without making fine distinctions among deeply religious Christians, self-proclaimed libertarians, and so on, who may well have deep objections. Fact is, clearly, they don’t take those objections they have seriously enough to shift parties or even sit on their hands at election time, so it’s a fair (if statistical) statement to just say that “US conservatives support torture” or that Ben Carson is actually the most visible US conservative “intellectual” promoting what the Republican Party / GOP itself actually does: torture, defend its key figures and those in Israel against war crimes accusations, defy the ICC, and so on.

      Worldwide most people are in countries that signed on to the ICC (International Criminal Court) and would defer to its definitions of torture, war crimes, etc., and say these things deserve prosecution or sanction.

      However, see what happens to you if you take these popular globally believed positions on Quora. The moderators, who include several who explicitly endorse Jeb Bush for President 2016 (including Marc Bodnick), and others who argue against ICC or for Israeli actions in many threads, will do everything in their power to censor this observation.

      And they won’t take their time about it, either. It’s flat out political bias and censorship and over time should drive off even Canadian and UK and Australian and New Zealand users of average views of those places. Most of whom would agree that US conservatives brought torture back to the Western world and continue to advocate and support it.

  • Jon

    No way I want these creeps to know my personal information.

  • Glen

    Unfortunately, Quora is going the way of Facebook in terms of “soft” censorship. It makes no bones about how heavily moderated it is, and while I’ve encountered many Quora enthusiasts who claim it pushes no particular social or political agenda, it clearly does. Thoughtful, reasoned, respectful, and relevant responses are aggressively weeded out, if they don’t conform to the particular worldview of Quora’s moderators.

    • Craig_Hubley

      Facebook shares the problem of unaccountable, non-transparent, Panopticon censorship, and is actually worse in this regard than Quora. No means whatosever of appeal and no transparency.

      However, facebook is far less aggressive against particular communities of users and generally does seem to understand that it is used as the world’s political forum, thus controversial opinions with actual arguments or evidence need their space.

      Quora’s “heavily moderated” environment is by contrast very selective and seems to depends on the whims of a few people who may be making very commercially oriented decisions. As you say ” Thoughtful, reasoned, respectful, and relevant responses are
      aggressively weeded out, if they don’t conform to the particular
      worldview of Quora’s moderators.” Who are US males, basically, trying to sell other US males on investing, advertising and partnering.

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  • Craig_Hubley

    I must agree with Glen and Frank that Quora reflects a particularly narrow subset of US worldviews, particularly in its moderation. Like Glen “while I’ve encountered many Quora enthusiasts who claim it pushes no
    particular social or political agenda, it clearly does. Thoughtful,
    reasoned, respectful, and relevant responses are aggressively weeded
    out, if they don’t conform to the particular worldview of Quora’s
    moderators.” There are statements about how Quora moderation works, mostly authored by Marc Bodnick himself, that are absolutely false and easily proven so. A typical censorship transaction begins with Bodnick himself tagging a comment thread or answer with the name of a particular “moderator” he handpicks, with no other information, thus a clear instruction to censor that thread or user. The moderator chosen might have expertise in nothing, or in “hair”, or in anything that has nothing to do with the subject, but in any case is Bodnick’s employee and highly unlikely to do anything but sanction, block or censor the user.

    Bodnick’s claims about moderation policy on Quora itself contradict this actual practice that he himself initiates and controls. For instance, it’s pretty obvious that no one beyond Bodnick and his handpicked editor actually look at these comments or users, flatly contradicting Bodnick’s own claim that all editors do. For another, there are supposedly “moderation@” and “appeals@” accounts to appeal decisions to, but these are not even linked or mentioned in block or ban notices. So, to be absolutely clear:

    Marc Bodnick, an officer of a company that presumably someday may want to make a public offering, is flatly lying to the public about its policies, personally participating in the process that contradicts them (thus he must be aware of it), and in some cases is clearly exercising his own personal or political bias in so doing. Go look at Bodnick’s own personal political views and affiliations and it takes about five minutes to find an example of a question, answer, thread, user intimidated or censored. This is not what Wall Street means by adult supervision.

    Then there’s the overt censorship of comments about Quora in other social media. That’s another whole can of worms, but go have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Quora&action=history and you see some things that are pretty amazing and uniquely abusive. For instance, at Wikipedia it’s pretty standard procedure to restore a POV tag that someone who works for a company has just removed. It’s also very frowned upon to use bots to revert edits without comments. Articles that get out of date are usually tagged as such. Yet all of those policies were clearly violated by Quora employees to keep this Quora article at Wikipedia reading fairly favourably.

    It’s not only against Wikimedia Foundation policy for employees of companies to edit articles about the company, it’s quite legally dangerous for the company or the employee involved.

    In fact when politicians, like Pierre Poilievre, got caught doing this, adding “promtional text” and censoring criticisms, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pierre_Poilievre&action=history the article itself ended up adding a whole paragraph about these abuses. No such disclosure for Quora!

    In fact, Quora is so special at Wikipedia that when an IP is blocked by actual employees of Quora, or at their behest, someone so much as suggesting the procedure by which they could challenge that is met with a highly unusual “why would anyone want to do that?” as if anyone doing so would also be sanctioned. Even harsh critics of Wikipedia would see this is extremely unusual and wildly biased in Quora’s favour, especially as it’s admitted employees of the company doing the censoring and then calling for backup from their friends (who may well include other Quora employees). It’s amazing, and it’s certainly the kind of thing that validates most harsh criticisms of Quora.

    Given that, and Bodnick’s behavior, it’s really hard to justify investing in Quora, especially given what credible analysts were calling a “near-unicorn” valuation of $900 million. That phrase, and the simple fact that Quora was projected to be a billion-dollar company by now, are among those removed by employees. No idea if the company is aware of it, but given Bodnick’s active intervention in the moderation process at Quora, and that at least one person involved is both an employee of Quora and of Wikimedia Foundation, one would have to assume so until proven otherwise.

    Jimmy Wales is involved in both but he doesn’t edit articles about himself at Wikipedia, even when they’re clearly wrong, so there’s one person in the clear.

    It seems Wales, not Bodnick, needs to be the “adult supervision” at Quora. The investors should be replacing Bodnick with someone more like Wales, who has at least some concept of what “systemic bias” is, will deal with conflicts of interest with an explicit process, and who understands that procedures have to be followed by everyone, *especially* those with financial interests or top jobs.

    Because everyone’s watching.

    • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

      You’re right on target — that Bodnick is a hypocritical info-censor. But to suggest that Jimmy Wales would be a better replacement for him? That would be just as horrendous. (Note that Wales is a financial investor in Quora.) I have experienced Bodnick deleting my answers on Quora, if they are the least bit critical of his buddy investor Wales.

  • Craig_Hubley

    Marc Bodnick aggressively defends a “real names policy” (which is actually just a “real seeming names policy” that encourages the creation of undetectable ‘nyms that masquerade as real people). There are however serious problems with this: http://betanews.com/2014/09/13/facebooks-real-name-policy-is-wrong-discriminatory-and-potentially-dangerous/
    https://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/the-google-real-name-policy-is-wrong/
    and it is often called “ineffective” and “dangerous” http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/07/17/google_plus_finally_ditches_its_ineffective_dangerous_real_name_policy.html

    The basic problem is that the RealNamePolice http://www.dailydot.com/technology/realnamepolice-facebook-real-names-policy/ are always selectively enforcing this impossible nonsense “policy” and it usually falls on unpopular minorities or the less powerful users.

    There are ethical rules for handling pseudonyms, and among them is never to make it easy to masquerade as a real person by name, while making it hard to honestly declare yourself with a consistent pseudonym. Quora makes it very easy to invent a fake person, engage in a bunch of controversial dialogue, then disappear, having identified the actual real people opposed to your view or your point. Then as the disappearing user starts fresh, they have an edge over those from the first round of disputes, because they know their positions and names in advance. For reasons like this, content-focused sites like Wikipedia have abandoned the “use real names” fiction. Facebook and Quora pretend to enforce such rules, but they can’t and don’t.

    It’s obvious to any sane person that the users who follow such “rules” are put at a gross disadvantage in debate by those that can easily flout them because of the total lack of enforceability. At Wikipedia, if you want to create an account under your real name in the phone book, go ahead, and argue with 500 people if you want. But you can hardly complain that someone who called themselves “Nasty the beach troll” was pretending to be using their real name and promising not to suddenly disappear from the world having learned a lot about you. Wikipedia’s policy is that you have to assess that likelihood for yourself and whether you care. Facebook and Quora? They *pretend* and *promise* that they are forcing users to use real names, but in the end, they just do not and cannot. So why do they pretend to do something they just cannot do?

    The real reasons for overtly pushing such unenforceable and stupid policies are legal and financial: Facebook and Quora are both telling people that some number of real people are using their service. Wikipedia doesn’t care how many that is. But advertisers and investors do. Thus the fair and reasonable policy can be honestly supported on a nonprofit web site devoted to content, while the officers of a private company have every motive to falsely represent their policy, its effectiveness and enforcement, their user base size, and so on.

    It’s an inherent problem with private corporations running major social media services: They can’t honestly admit that many of the real users are not using “real names”, and they can’t control the pogroms, witchhunts and “outing” of unpopular or minority or vulnerable users, because they have agreed with their investors and advertisers to “out” and remove such accounts wherever found. Even if that process exposes oh say gay activists in Iran to torture and murder.

    Which the investors and advertisers don’t care about.

    This is just another factor skewing Quora towards US users who are generally not tortured nor murdered for their beliefs alone.

  • Craig_Hubley

    Here’s some more critical review of Quora to balance, sadly, propaganda from the interview above. The most recent of which claims that Quora has a “misogyny problem” similar to Wikipedia’s, but worse http://www.zdnet.com/article/quoras-misogyny-problem-a-cautionary-tale/#!

    By most recent, I mean summer 2014. Basically, almost no one writes about Quora any more.

    And here’s more reasons why not:
    https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2773180
    http://www.attackofdesign.com/why-quora-is-in-trouble/

    And this one may be the best
    http://valleywag.gawker.com/is-quora-actually-smart-510343042/all#

    ” the “Black People” Internet Test, wherein the phrase “black people” is searched on a given online community. High results usually indicate a simple, ignorant user base—the kind of internet morons who tend to make sweeping generalizations that begin with the words “black people.” Quora, despite all of its esoteric overtones, scores quite high:”

    So, basically a snake pit of misogyny, racism, cliques and US conservatives?

    Seems so. At least until the hate cultists, misogynists, racists and cliques from India show up http://valleywag.gawker.com/most-of-quoras-traffic-is-now-coming-from-india-1341592714 (most of Quora’s traffic is now from India).

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