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

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low, thanks to the advent of cloud computing (Quora runs almost entirely on Amazon Web Services). And “we are a lot further along in the development of the Internet,” he says. “So there are investors now who have seen the pattern enough times: that if you get a lot of people using a product, there is almost always a good way to monetize.”

When the time is right to start charging for something, there are three obvious things to try, D’Angelo says. The first is selling ads. “We know for sure that advertising will work, because it works for so many similar products.”

Another option is creating some kind of premium version of the question-and-answer service and charging users for access. Closely related to that: the option to pay an expert, through Quora, to answer your specific question. Each option comes with its own hazards—if you start paying certain people to answer questions, for example, it might discourage others from posting answers for free. The point is, there’s still time to experiment. “We are just going to try things out, and I think there is a lot of potential,” D’Angelo says.

6. Quora is not a technology platform.

Some people are so active on Quora that their body of answers and comments comprises a big part of their online identity, right along side their tweetstream on Twitter, their timeline on Facebook, or their profile on LinkedIn. You might think, then, that Quora’s ambitions would include “platformization,” the extension of the Quora ecosystem across other sites, apps, and services. Yet you don’t see little red buttons all around the Web that say “Log in using Quora Connect” or “Share this on Quora.” And that’s another deliberate omission.

“It’s a lot of work to run a platform, and we have limited resources,” D’Angelo says. (He should know: he was at Facebook when the company was building its own platform.) “You have to make these commitments to developers, and then you have to support them for a long time, and it makes it hard to change things, and you can hurt your reputation if you don’t do a good job of it.” (Can anyone say Twitter?)

But the absence of a Quora platform hasn’t kept Quora’s content from leaking out to the wider Web. In fact, the company is liberal about sharing. “One thing that was conscious was Adam’s decision to let other outlets republish Quora content with minimal restrictions,” Bodnick says. “Anybody can republish content on Quora as long as you give attribution back to the page and as long as the writer has not tagged the page ‘Not for Reproduction.’” That kind of sharing is only good for Quora, in the end, since the links make for good branding and drive some organic traffic back to the site.

7. Quora isn’t just for the Web.

Quora is all about text—not just reading answers, but writing them and searching for them. The latter two activities have never been easy on mobile devices, which meant until recently that people who accessed Quora on their smartphones weren’t getting the same experience as people visiting via their desktop browsers.

The company has been working to fix that. This year Quora brought full text search to its mobile apps (before, you could only search for questions, topics, or people). It’s also added a rich text editor, so mobile question-answerers can use bold, italics, bullets, and other formatting to their hearts’ content.

“It used to be that mobile devices were great for reading, but essentially second-class citizens when it came to writing,” Bodnick says. “You could only write in plain text. But now we are letting people write with the same tools they have on the desktop, which is great, since about a third of our traffic is from mobile now, and in a few years, clearly, more than half of everyone’s traffic is going to be mobile.”

Quora rebuilt its iPhone app for iOS 7 and published it on the same day Apple released the new operating system last month. A big feature is an ever-present “+” button that lets users instantly submit a question or post to their Quora blog. The company says it’s also working on a native version of the app for the iPad and the iPad mini; they’ll be ready by the end of the year. (There’s already a Quora app for Android phones and tablets.)

Mobile users spend twice as much time on Quora as desktop-only users, so the company has every reason to make the service work better on smartphones. The iOS 7 app is so nice that I’m almost afraid to use it—I’m worried I’ll wind up going down the rabbit hole and miss all my work deadlines.

And that, in the end, is the only reason I don’t use Quora more than I do. Each answer is infused with the personality of its author, so the content never gets old, the way Wikipedia’s dusty-dry prose rapidly does. That makes surfing Quora’s vast knowledge base completely addictive—a problem that D’Angelo says he’s aware of. “You might use it more if each time you used it there was some kind of stopping point; if it wasn’t just this never-ending thing,” he says. “It’s something that we will look into. But I don’t know how much control we have over it.”

Helping users be less addicted: it’s the very definition of a good problem to have. Almost as good as being asked, over and over, to explain what Quora really is. If people weren’t intrigued, they wouldn’t be asking.

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The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

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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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