Is Quora Yet Another Social Network (YASN) or Something Different? | Beth's Blog

Is Quora Yet Another Social Network (YASN) or Something Different?

Digital Strategy

Flickr Photo by Lee Haywood

(Note from Beth: Geoff Livingston contributed to this post.  Thanks Geoff! )

Over the holidays,  I finally visited Quora, a social learning site focused around asking and answering questions founded by an ex-Facebook employee.   Quora has been around for a year and provides an independent question platform from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn that is similar to Yahoo! Answers.  It does heavily rely on Twitter and Facebook for promotion, adding it to the increasing amount of social middleware platforms that are being developed.  According to one Quora volunteer, it has grown significantly in the past few weeks, indicating that it may have surpassed a tipping point.

I waited to join, in spite of receiving generic invitations from colleagues who had joined. Prior to the holidays I ignored them because I just couldn’t stomach “yet another social network.”     So, what made me go check it out?

Ironically, it was my post “Reflection on Networked Professional Learning” where I linked to a post on Social Networks from Stephen Downes.   In the post,  he describes Quora as:

Quora is “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.” Neylon’s answer was one of the links in Brian Kelly’s article on Quora. Kelly was drawn to the site via a tweet from George Siemens pointing to a question about information overload and his answer (now superseded by Robert Scoble’s much better answer – sorry George).

I also got two track backs from Quora a few days later that Greg Meyer has referenced my post with a follow up question about learning and information overload on Quora.    After reading and responding on the thread on information overload, it not only introduced to some new thinking around a topic I’m very interested in, but it made think.     I wrote this reflection on balancing solitude and information overload summarizing what I read on Quora.

Some nonprofit colleagues, like my friend Manny Hernandez, are checking it out – as is Geoff Livingston.

Some first impressions:

Slower, Reflective Experience: The process of answering and asking questions is a reflective practice.    That does not typically happen when you participate in the fast, staccato pace of most social spaces like Twitter.    Quora offered focused attention, not reactive.   It prompted deeper insights about at topic I’m interested.    As Louis Gray suggests, it offers relevancy and community.  

Subject Matter Expertise: My entry to Quora was through connections who come from the library and education areas and by side stepped into a couple of technology areas.   I knew some of the participants on the thread, well-known bloggers, authors, librarians, educators, and thinkers.    This conversation thread was rich, witty, and thoughtful.    The site is also becoming popular with technology insiders in Silicon Valley.  Take for example this thread about launching a start up at SXSW.

As I discovered with my initial forays, each question intelligently guides  you to new people and new related topics and that keeps your interest in it strong.    As more people use Quora, will the subject matter expertise and replication be diluted?   Will it get corrupted with spammers and self-promoters?   To get value from Quora, will it require even sharper curation skills?   Louis Gray points out that a couple of safeguards have been built into the system, use of real identities and rating/voting of the answers, to prevent this from happening.

Object Based Social Sharing VS Social Graph Sharing:   Objects are things like photos, bookmarks, slide decks, or in the case of Quora, questions.   The ” Social Graph” is your network or the people you are connected with on social networks.  Rashmi Sinhi, CEO of SlideShare, one of my favorite object-based social sharing sites, created this deck back in 2007 which talks about the evolution of social sharing.   On Facebook and other social networks,  we connect to information through our friends.   Here we connect to the information and others who have an interest in it.

Serendipity and Pivot Browsing: The site uses tags to categorize and link questions or what is known as pivot browsing which is the ability to reorient the page view by clicking on tags or user names or questions and it provides a lightweight mechanism to navigate a collection of objects.   You can use any of those links to look around you. You can change direction at any moment.

It is less structured and more free form than browsing traditional hierarchies. Rashmi Sinha uses this metaphor for pivot browsing: walking in the forests or some other open space, stopping to smell the pine, taking a break. You get the lay of the land as you walk around. The point is not just the destination, the point is the journey itself or serendipity.

Human Moderators: There is also some human moderation by the community.  For example, removing or revising questions so they are more open-ended.  The moderators responded to Geoff’s request for more information about having posts removed within 45 minutes. Geoff’s posts were removed because they were to yes or no oriented, and Quora does not allow for polling types of questions. The moderation is handled by Quora Admins who are not necessarily employees of the company.    Their community use policy is also pretty extensive.

Interface and Privacy: The interface is good enough to inspire dynamic questioning, but could stand for a little bit of a clean-up.  Notifications beyond an initial page seem to have bugs, and the interface does seem jumpy, a bit unstable and less than intuitive. In addition, follower pull through requests from other networks like Twitter and Facebook occur with questionable privacy policies.

So, how might Quora be useful to nonprofit professionals?   It looks like a good resource for professional networked learning and as adoption grows it might be a place to engage and developed deeper relationships with supporters.  At minimum asking a question and linking to it on Facebook and Twitter, and possibly even  a blog post.   What do you think?

16 Responses

  1. Aldon Hynes says:

    I first jumped into Quora the day after Christmas. A friend had invited me, and I have a slightly different reaction to YASN. In my case, I like to jump in, and allow the social network to give the social network equivalent of an elevator speech. I’ll play with the social network as long as it is interesting, and if it is really interesting, perhaps return the next day.

    Now, I regularly check Quora several times a day. I view it very similar to the discussions I get into around the water cooler or in the halls of conferences. I appreciate a chance to hear other people’s thoughts about various topics and sharing my own thoughts.

    For nonprofit professionals, I think there is significant value, if you approach it that way. I have recently started as the social media manager for a federally qualified community health center. I want to find other people in health care that are passionate about social media, and Quora has helped me with that. I want to bounce ideas about the pros and cons of various social media sites off of people who have spent more time exploring them and I’ve gotten helpful information that way as well.

    I believe that in any community, it has to be give and take, so when I’ve come across questions that I think I have something to offer, I share my thoughts there as well.

    From a network analysis viewpoint, what makes a network interesting isn’t the connections and the nodes, but the traffic going between nodes. At present, I’m finding the quality of the traffic in Quora worth my time.

    If it gets overrun by self promotion, uninteresting questions, or other noise, I can easily stop going. But, for the time being, I’m there a lot.

    What do other people think?

  2. Rob Wu says:

    I think Quora is different because it’s less about connecting to people and more about connecting to information and human insights that are specific to what the user is looking for.

    It’d be great for non-profit learning as questions and answers can be easily searched. The challenge is getting a mass of non-profit professionals to use the system.

    This is an interesting thread on Quora for non-profits:

    Oh and BTW, I’ve noticed that there has been an influx of non-profit technology type questions on Quora today/yesterday. Perhaps this blog post helped raise awareness 🙂

  3. Holly says:

    Hey Beth –

    I must be feeling old this year already. I also have the same “not another one” feeling when these site pop up. I see the utility in Quora, and even Jumo. But I feel too tired to go check them all out. (Per your balancing solitude and connectedness post!

    Anyway. What I’m getting is that I am starting to think that this is just the phase we’re in right now. There’s going to be YASN every few weeks for a long time now. Each of their innovations could be “the next Facebook,” or could be consumed by Facebook. Either way, the particular niche-y goodness they deliver has to be explored an pondered.

    So no rest for the wicked.

    What do you think?

  4. jon says:

    I’ve been playing around on Quora for a while — I like the Q&A format a lot as a complement to other kinds of social media, and the whole Silicon Valley startup scene has been pumping them as the “next big thing”. To me the biggest issue so far has been the lack of diversity: it’s heavily male, white, techie, and Silicon Valley-oriented. Which answers on Quora have 40 or more upvotes? gives an idea of what topics are most popular … perhaps things’ll change with the influx of new people they’re currently experiencing. So at least for me the jury’s still out on whether its YASN or evolves into something broadly useful.

  5. Beth says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments folks. Aldon, I appreciate your openness to new platforms.

    In reading your responses, I realized that if I want to talk to other nonprofit tech folks, I can go to the NTC, post to the Zoetica Salon, go to or any number of online watering holes where my fellow birds of a feather hang out. I love those places.

    What drew me to Quora was the intense conversation with people in topic areas that I’m little obsessed with at the moment to learn about, but are not necessarily a deep focus in nonprofit tech watering holes. I like to learn from adjacent practices. Quora offered some depth of conversation around a couple of topics.

    The platform and process of q/a is interesting – but I found value from other topics there.

  6. Aldon Hynes says:

    Beth, et al., A few additional thoughts.

    First, what makes social media important to me, is bridging as opposed to bonding. Much of my work has been in the political sphere which if rife with people preaching to the choir and not reaching out to others.

    I’m not all that interested in talking with nonprofit tech folks, per se. Yeah, as a general rule, they are interesting people, but I’m looking for something else. When it comes to health care, the folks I talk with are a mix of for-profit and non-profit.

    Yet the idea of talking with people who are passionate about things I’m not an expert in is compelling.

    This relates to another thing that I often talk about in social media and it is interesting to see how it plays out in health care as well. It often seems like everyone wants to be heard, yet no one wants to listen. It feels like the q/a format of Quora (and probably more at Quora than some other q/a systems) encourages a higher level of listening than other platforms.

  7. Micah says:

    I’ve found Quora to be a great place to test out and hone one’s knowledge on a particular topic. For instance, I’m interested in ebooks and libraries, so I check on on threads relating to both at least once daily, offer answers and learn from other’s responses. I think it could be a really great tool for generalizing knowledge around topics – a new, different form of content curation.

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  11. Beth

    Great post. I think one thing you don’t talk about is the motivational issues around contributing to a site like this. It seems to be a place where good answers and thoughtful responses mean an increase in social currency. Why would I contribute to that community? Because my good answer helps establish me as an expert in a community of potential clients, partners, employers, etc. It seems to do this better than other sites, which I think accounts for the growth.


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