Made of Bugs

It's software. It's made of bugs.

Some thoughts on Quora

With the announcement this week that Quora had taken $11 million in VC at an $86 million valuation, there’s been an awful lot of attention on Quora. I’ve had an account there and wanted to write up some of my initial thoughts.

If you haven’t heard about Quora, it’s yet another question/answer site on the web. People pose questions, and you can view questions and answer them. I’ve heard it described as “StackOverflow, but for anything”, which is roughly true, even if I think they want to be more. There are tons of Q&A sites out there, but I think there is clearly room for more, or better ones – none of them seem to get it quite right in various ways.

Here’s my thoughts/observations on Quora:

  • It's currently very much still inhabited primarily by the Silicon Valley crowd. Half the questions seem to be about web startups or related topics. I'm sure the userbase will branch out eventually, but until it does, it's somewhat difficult to anticipate how the feel will change.

  • I want it to be more real-time. I'm fairly good at using Google to answer questions, so if I post a technical question, it's usually just because I'm too lazy to go digging myself. But if I don't get an answer back quickly, I'll tend to time out and just go do the work myself. In my experience, it hasn't been fast enough to avoid that timeout.

    I do have the advantage that if I want opinons or answers to more subjective questions, I can ask Zephyr, MIT's instant messaging network, which I describe as somewhat like a cross between IRC and Twitter. It's possible there's more value here for people who don't have that resource.

  • Quora seems to encourage a model where users respond with mostly-distinct, authoritative answers, rather than being a forum where the community can collaboratively work together to converge on the answer to a question. I don't know how this compares to other Q&A sites (I don't really use any of them), but when someone on Zephyr asks a question, it's quite common for one person to throw out a guess (noted as such), or partial answer, and for whoever else is around to start from that guess and go to Google, Wikipedia, or other references, reporting progress as they go, until they arrive at a satisfactory answer.

    I would love to see a Q&A site for the web that harnesses the same sort of collaboration to find answers to questions that no single person already knows the full answer to. Quora isn't that (yet?), and so it remains much less useful to me than Zephyr. I'll be curious to follow where it goes, though. $11 million probably opens a lot of possibilities.