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

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.

  • 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.

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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.

  • 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.