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By Thomas Baekdal - February 2011

The Train-wreck called Quora and Why We Don't Need It

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have already read about Robert Scoble's falling out with Quora. And the many reactions to it. Remember, Scoble has been the top person on Quora, answering more questions than most other people. He even went as far as to call Quora the new blogging platform.

Scoble is a great guy, but he is also an alien from another parallel dimension. He uses the internet in a distorted kind of reality.

Quora being a blog is obviously completely insane. Quora isn't the new world of blogging, nor is it a social network. It is simply a Q&A site, like so many others. With a nice feature that you can follow people or topics.

Does that mean it is better than or Stackoverflow? Not really. While it is certainly helping Quora in the short run, it creates an internal conflict inside the system between what the site is about. Is it about people or content?

You can't do both. You can augment one with the other, but one of them has to take second place.

Robert Scoble is a prime example of that. He used Quora as an extension of his person, and in doing so, he had to fight the elements that favored content.

But Quora has a much bigger problem than Scoble, and they don't seem to realize it.

1: Neutral platform

The first problem is the reviewers. As a Q&A site, getting reviewers on board is important, but you have to set a few rules. A reviewer cannot be biased, and you have to define what the concept of value is.

Quora's reviewers are clearly biased towards their personal feelings about a specific person or topic, which completely undermines the value of Quora. When Scoble posted a question about what was wrong with Quora, it was immediately voted down by the reviewers. This was simply a personal vendetta, and you can't have that on a site like Quora.

It makes the site untrustworthy as a source of information. How can you trust an answer, if people who have a different opinion can vote you off the board? Assume you ask if you should do something on Facebook or Twitter, and the answers are heavily biased towards Twitter, simply because that is what the reviewers like.

We need answers based on real knowledge, not answers biased on feelings towards a topic. They need to have completely neutral reviewers.

2: Branding

Second problem is that Quora seems not to understand where social value is really coming from. There are two kinds of people on social channels. The ones who provide value to others, and the ones who talk about themselves.

What is the difference between the two? Well, you don't have to go to Quora to get the answer to that. It is simply branding (not to be confused with marketing, which is selfish).

People who wants to brand themselves know that they have to be a source of value. Take a look at your Twitter feed, and find the people you that influences you. What do they all have in common? Yep, they are all (personal) brands. What about people you are merely following for fun? They are just people.

It is that mental shift that happens inside you when you turn into a (personal) brand. It is the difference between a source of selfish opinions, and valuable insight.

With branding, I don't mean marketing. Marketing is the selfish act of promoting yourself. Branding is the aura of influence you create around your actions.

What does this have to do with Quora? Well, they banned Mashable because they do not allow brands on Quora.

Twitter and Facebook nearly made the same mistake. On Twitter you still cannot sign up as a brand, but we have all found a way around that. Twitter would not be where they are today, if they block brand accounts like Quora.

Sure, allowing brands from bringing in value, also open up the flood-gates of clueless marketeers and their self promotion crap. We all hate that, but that is part of the game.

3: Will it stay relevant?

Today, Quora is filled with very interesting questions - and a lot of very good answers. Will it stay that way? Yes and no.

The people on Quora today are mostly influential early adopters. This, in itself, boosts the quality and relevance for that niche. But as it grows we see more and more questions like "If someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?"

Quora does have one good thing going for it - the social connection. This mean you personal Q&A stream is likely going to remain relevant, at least if you can maintain the discipline of only following people within your sphere of interests,

But the problem is that Quora is a really high maintenance site. It is fun while it new and exciting. But if you want to be influential on Quora, you have to (in this order):

  1. You need to be the source of all the right answers (primarily)
  2. You need to be the person following all the right questions (creating value by bringing attention to the right stuff).
  3. You need to ask all the right questions.

That is a lot of work. Time that could be better spent on other channels. Why post an answer on Quora, when you can write an article about it on your own blog. One that you can post to all your channels? Why not just post a link on Quora to your answer?

Well, one problem is that Quora's reviewers would vote it down. They hate links.

4: We don't need another destination

This leads us to the final problem. We don't actually need a Q&A destination. We need a site that can connect the right question, with the rights answers. Think combining questions that people ask, with a content aggregation engine.

We do not need people to answer questions that they have already answered elsewhere. We just need the link.

Quora is trying to create yet another destination. A place where we are forced to recreate all the questions and answers that have already been posted on other sites for years.

Quora is the wrong solution to the problem. It is a destination. We really need a connection. It is great if that connection is curated by people, and even greater if it is influenced by people I trust.

But, we just need a link.

And if the question hasn't been answered yet, it would be much more useful for people to post it on their own sites, and just link to it on Quora.

I'm sorry Quora. You have a great concept - just not the right one.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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