Quo Vadis Quora?

Quora floated to the top of my Google search results  recently thanks to an article published by ZDnet. The author, Violet Blue, focuses around misogyny, trolling  and other problems Quora is facing relating to online abuse.

What women have been going through on Quora is harrowing: Harassment and threats, stalking on and off the site, and an atmosphere that enables ongoing targeting with moderators that don’t understand, or help.

I, on the other hand, wanted to write about something that’s been on my mind for a while now.

The promise

I joined Quora a good couple of months ago with the promise, if I remember correctly, to “follow and discuss with real people (market leaders) from the industry”. This is how Quora was sold to me and I remember that very well. I usually forget why I join a website if I don’t use it in the first place. The reason I remember this instance  is because of the disappointment.

The site description states “Quora is your best source for knowledge. Quora aims to be the easiest place to write new content and share content from the web.” I wonder if this is a genuine strategy to compete with Wikipedia for being the best source for knowledge.

Also, Google “Quora” and look at the result: Google Term "Quora" For me it’s a big “no no” already as this is not the type of content I was supposed to find there. And how does this look like in the light of article from ZDNet? I wanted to read what thought leaders, market leaders, representatives of top tech companies have to say. Engage with them; perhaps build some sort of valuable relationship over time (the idea of social media?). Throw my 2 cents in, contribute to something great, but not to look at another set of “Top 10 beautiful women in *insert location here*” questions and answers. After those few months, I have just unsubscribed from email notifications from Quora. I haven’t deleted the account yet, because I’m interested to see how it evolves.

What happened? Relevancy happened

Or rather, lack of it. I followed a number of companies and topics I found interesting, read a few entries and discussions, was receiving relevant content and notifications. Then after a while I realized I wasn’t clicking on any email notifications I received. After a while I decided to investigate the reason for me being a Quora “dormant account”. I am sure for quite some time their email notifications were broken. Whenever I clicked on a topic in the email the page I landed on didn’t have the content I was looking for. That might have been only me. Okay, you could argue that it’s the browser cache, browsing history, or some abnormal coincidence. Yet, I’m still pretty sure it was just a bug lasting good couple of weeks that made it impossible to reach the interesting content.

What happened? Quality content happened

Or rather, lack of it. I might have to rephrase that to “quality content vanishing in the crowd of low quality content.” My expectation was to talk to people who know more and find new information through informed conversation. I’m feeling the expectation is not being met with a product that’s slowly turning to Yahoo! Answers.

Here are a number of random questions found on Quora that make me think I’m part of Yahoo! Answers.

I could go on forever. Just pick a topic and you will find a question of this type, usually at the top of results.

I understand that from search engine perspective it’s all great content because it’s unique (written by real people), but is it really unique content knowledge-wise? For a place claiming to be “the best source of knowledge” there is nothing unique about it. It is content that is available on hundreds of other websites, forums, social media, newspapers, etc.

It’s relative

It all comes down to the point what people consider “quality content”.  While for some the examples taken from Quora are quality content, for me they are not. Especially, with the platform being sold as the go-to place for knowledge and easy content creation. I know there’s still plenty of interesting topics there, but I don’t think Quora is focusing on them anymore. They’re somewhere out there hidden in the bloat of content that can easily be found and researched online using search engines. I was looking for real quality, yet I ended up with refreshed Yahoo! Answers (no offence, but we know that it’s famous for all sorts of trolling).

Is this what happens when a product opens to a wider audience? Is Quora here to teach us that vetting (whether content, or users) is the only way to retain high quality user generated content? My eyes are on closed invite-only communities like Quibb, which value quality over quantity. I will be looking at Quora to see which way they will go and what they will do to become relevant and troll-free place again.

Your thoughts on this? What do you consider “quality” content?

7 comments

  1. Hey Artur,

    great article, I am a long time Quora user and recently started suffering the same frustrations when using the site. Too much spam, too many irrelevant questions.

    I hope Quora will find a way to keep the high quality it had at the beginning. And in the early days it was really an awesome community. I think much will depend on the business model they’ll chose to generate revenue. If they can find an high margin model that don’t need the community to become huge they have some chances.
    Otherwise, if they’ll need to grow the userbase more and more I’m afraide they’re doomed to become a technology oriented Yahoo answers. And that would be a shame,

    Another big problem I see is the ineluctable will from marketers to screw up every new channel.
    I loved helping people with useful answers on the topics I know best, mainly Facebook Advertising and inbound marketing. Of course I was doing that as part of our content marketing strategy to generate leads but I was trying to do it in a useful, non spammy way.

    Nowadays I often give up spending an hour trying to answer somebody’s questions because some of our competitors just answer every single question with short, useless answers, with every damn word being a link to their websites. They also have an army of fake accounts (every user upvoting them has only voted their answers since signup … how likely is that?) so all their crappy answers ranks first.

    But I guess this is in the dna of most (crappy) marketers … abuse every channel in every possible way until you kill it.

    1. Hi Massimo,

      Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the article. What you wrote about definitely shows some problems on the backend (abuse and spam) and inability to counter it effectively. Every startup UGC-oriented should expect that growth comes with serious privacy and spam/scam issues. It’s only a matter of time.

      When ti comes to marketers. I don’t think I’d call them marketers if all they do is abuse the platform. It resembles more a major click farm/like farm as I call these accounts that like everything on Facebook. That’s inevitable. But putting certain algorithms in place to prevent platform abuse is something Quora should definitely do. Otherwise high quality content consumers (and usually those potential customers) will leave and the revenue channel will dry up.

      Also, more crappy, low-quality answers mean more disappointment which I think both of us are experiencing with Quora.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with Quora. What alternatives do you use for content marketing?

      P.S. looking at the range of topics (e.g. pregnancy, married life, celebrities, etc.) I wouldn’t call them “technology oriented” anymore.

      1. LOL you’re right it has probably lost the technology focus, maybe that’s just me following those topics 🙂

        I think there’s still lot’s of quality in Quora but you have to dig deeper to find it. However there are many high profile people still answering questions luckily. As an example, when we applied for 500 Startups, Quora was a priceless resource to fine tune our application and understand what the 500S team was looking for.

        For content marketing I know use a lot inbound.org, growthhackers.com, Sharebloc, Quibb and so on. But they are more about content discovery/distribution than Q&A

  2. In relevancy you raise an important and on-going concern.

    To make Quora useful, I heavily filter my feeds, write a niche blog, and connect with other readers/writers. I’m on Quibb, too; it’s useful for the curated community. For video interviews, I just joined a paid group on Mixergy because I wanted to guarantee high quality and engage with a knowledgeable community.

    Cheers for the post.

    1. Hi Erik,

      Thanks for commenting. There’s clearly a need for more curated and smaller communities, rather than just huge pools of information. Quora starts to feel like Facebook feed. You need to spend a good amount of time to see what you want to see. The problem with it is that with high customization you most likely hinder new content discovery.

  3. Quora is going through the problem that all expanding businesses do – the difficulty of maintaining its culture while growing and reaching out to new markets. It’s remarkable that Wikipedia managed to survive its huge growth spurts while staying true to its original value proposition.

    Wikipedia invested its efforts in building moderation systems and clear guidelines. Communities and culture require maintenance in the form of human oversight and culture keepers, in addition to the technological infrastructure that supports them. As companies grow, however, they often overlook that human element.

    Part of the problem is that the value of community investment is extraordinarily difficult to measure, so companies that are guided by standard KPIs might not see signs of success or failure from community investment (or lack thereof).

    1. Hi Kate,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, Wikipedia made it due to very strict guidelines and moderation. Were such guidelines ever in place for Quora? Apart from the usual “no offensive content allowed”. I know strict guidelines will most likely be against the idea of easy content creation (remember the early days of Wikipedia article adding/editing?)

      There’s a lot of manpower needed to moderate and a lot of manpower is not what startups are about. I’ve seen companies that made it either with the help of community or external resources. It is possible, but the issue must be recognized and addressed. The community aspect and lack of recognition.. Some companies get it, others don’t. Some simply think that community management is the same as customer service.

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