I fell in love with Quora right quick. Crazy in love, as Beyonce might say.
Unfair though it may be, it's impossible to look at something like Quora in 2010 without immediately comparing it to Twitter. At it's best, when you're following a manageable few hundred people or so (anybody following more than that is on meth or just isn't listening), Twitter gives off the energy of a (mostly) benevolent mob.
Twitter is the agora. Quora is the agora with Socrates present.
Quora is a Q-&-A site. Sign up for an account (or link your Facebook/Twitter accounts) and you can ask questions of Quora's users, who follow question categories that are of interest to them. This is well-travelled territory, populated by Ask MetaFilter, Yahoo Answers, Fluther, and others. But Quora has learned lessons from Twitter that others have not.
Ask MetaFillter and Yahoo Answers are artifacts of a time before the "social" Internet, when nerds like me ran this place. Fluther isn't that old, but feels like it is - a place where people operate behind anonymous handles like joon1986 and MissAnthrope.* These sites aren't about getting answers from anyone in particular, but about polling the mob. Fluther bills itself as "tapping the collective". AskMetaFilter's tagline is "querying the hivemind".
Quora insists on asking you for your given name when you sign up. This means that Quora, to a great degree, is going to be about access to notable people. It's a bit like what Google tried to do by making old-Web anonymous Wikipedia into new-Web Knol. Except it isn't soul-crushingly boring.
Twitter got its start with the thousands of social media sycophants who joined to get access to
Robert Scoble, and its ascension to the mainstream came from the millions who joined to get access to Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga. It's easy to take for granted now, but it was a lot harder to directly communicate with Roger Ebert or Neil Gaiman before Twitter.
The downside to Quora (and this
might be my own information horizon) is that right now it skews hard towards SF-area
tech people. There are, for example, 9170 people following the startup category versus 121 following baseball. But, hey - show me an exciting Web platform that wasn't a Silicon Valley playground when it started out. Give it 6 months and the user base should
Quora is also awash in fervent naval-gazing. There's hundreds of self-important questions about the Quora community, but we know by now that this is unavoidable. There's nothing Twitter users prefer to talking about Twitter, etc. But I accept these flaws. I'm in love.
I think Quora has a bright future. It's not only useful, but it lends itself to branding and monetization. It's easy to imagine a brand posting a celebrity or executive expert onto Quora, or for all questions in a particular category to be sponsored. Savvy companies will charge external relations and PR folks to watch Quora for questions about them. This is the kind of thing that venerable MetaFilter has always eschewed out of principle and that Yahoo Answers is too anarchic and noisy to properly support.
I run UK & EMEA digital strategy for Cohn & Wolfe during the day, and I make iPhone games with Hard Six Games in my spare time. Nothing you read here is the perspective of Cohn & Wolfe or any of its clients. You can email me at fdrizo at gmail dot com.