Tuesday evening, fellow San Francisco Edelman Digital colleague @AliHillman and I attended the Harvard Alumni Founders Series at the University Club of San Francisco where we had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Cheever who co-founded the up-and-coming social network, Quora. The Founders Series occurs every quarter featuring Harvard alumni who have taken the plunge and started their own venture here in the Bay area. Cheever, previously an engineer at Facebook who oversaw the creation of Facebook Connect, presented Quora’s capabilities and what the future holds for online knowledge management systems.
What is Quora?
The Harvard Club of San Francisco described Quora as such:
Founded in June 2009, Quora takes a “Wiki-approach” to questions and answers, effectively downloading high-quality knowledge, facts, and wisdom from some of the Internet’s brightest minds. Want to know the hottest clean tech startups in China? Ask Quora. Want to know where you can rent a baby elephant in the Bay area? Ask Quora. Want to know what the best North Korean restaurant is in Istanbul? Ask Quora.
Essentially, Quora is a social platform where users ask questions and provide answers. While questions all have the same purpose, the types of answers can vary. Cheever organized the types of answers into four buckets:
- Primary Source Information
- Research & Analysis
Quality & Reusability
Quora is focused on two pillars: quality and reusability.
Just as a community manager moderates a discussion on Facebook or on forums, Quora has a governing body of people who are seen as reliable users. Cheever summed this concept up when he said, “It’s kind of like a city.” There are folks who hold more influence and power than others like city officials.
This group enforces the site’s core principles: be nice and make each question a great resource. The site also places importance on grammar and spelling, so answers require more of an effort. And, aside from the governing body and set of rules, average users have an influence as well. They can vote answers up and down, which helps weed things out.
Now that we’ve covered quality, there’s the concept of reusability. Many people pose different questions, all looking for the same answer; therefore, Quora redirects similar questions to the same question page. This solves the problem of having to sift through content that would have come up in a search result.
Who’s on Quora?
Quora consists of two main groups: people who write questions and people who answer questions. Cheever says the answers group is the most important group because they build the product of Quora. However, there’s also a third group consisting of users who only read questions and answers; people who neither pose questions nor answer. This user group drove Quora to hone in on the concept of reusability.
Now, as a user begins to create their profile in Quora, the have to use your real name, provide a detailed and topic-specific bio. There is no anonymity besides the option of asking questions anonymously. In early iterations, users were able to comment anonymously, but Quora later did away with this feature as it was unhealthy for the site when people began putting down other users.
Note: there is a revision log, so users are able to see who has made edits and how. “This includes the text of questions and the details around them, what topics are attached to which questions, and the summaries of answers. Quora relies on the good faith of everyone using it to make it a high quality resource,” as mentioned on the Quora website.
Another interesting and important feature is that the user profile is deemphasized. Rather, the questions themselves are the focus.
Quora is now seen as a “high-quality resource” mainly because reputable users are actively participating in the space. One audience member asked how Quora has so many revered and trusted folks participating on the site. Cheever said it was like a ripple effect: after him and his colleagues started using it themselves they then naturally invited their friends. Coincidentally, their friends knew other people who were top influencers. He also owes this to their dedication to quality and positive news coverage.
The Space Between
So, where does Quora fit into the social media space? It’s not a Yahoo! Answers; it’s not a Twitter; and, it’s certainly not a Facebook. Quora answers this on its site, “People can follow topics so that the system can show them questions they are interested in and know about. People can follow individual questions too, which creates a waiting audience for anyone who wants to write an answer to the question. Some people call this ‘inverse blogging.’”
That being said, Quora might just fit in the space between social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs) and collaborative information sites (e.g., wikis and forums). Cheever explained the purpose of Quora is to draw out the content that would never be a fit on these platforms.
So, Why use Quora?
There are many reasons to use Quora. Of course the most obvious one being it’s a place to gather information — whether it be trying to find the best places to ski or asking the founder of a growing startup what motivates him or her.
But, have you ever thought it might also be a place to build a brand? Cheever explained that Quora can be used as a space where users position themselves as thought leaders while they build a reputation through active participation and building a following similar to Twitter.
Could this be used as a tactic for executive communications or even reputation management? One example of this is from the man himself, Charlie Cheever:
What’s Next for Quora?
Quora isn’t focused on monetization right now and Cheever said they aren’t spending much time on partnerships. He explained they are just looking to build the business. Cheever went on to say the biggest thing right now is the content on the site, which builds a passion among his Quora team. “Intuitively, [focusing on content] seems like a valuable thing to do.”
UPDATE: If you’re looking for stats on Quora, check out this infographic on Mashable: Quora: The Stats Behind the Buzz [INFOGRAPHIC] http://t.co/2WdR7Ko