The real problem with Quora

There’s been a blizzard of social media chatter about Quora recently. Robert Scoble loved it, then hated it. Vivek Whadwa doesn’t get it. Arrington thinks Scoble’s nuts. All of this is focused on whether or not Quora is a great blogging platform, how the voting system works, and so on.

Here’s the real problem with Quora, and why it’s going to struggle, until it solves it.

There’s no information architecture. It’s just a huge pile of unorganized content. The value in a Q&A service is the ability for people to process the answers and find useful information, or at least predict where they’re going to find this information. Hunch suffers from a similar problem – it’s hard to know which ‘Hunch’ is going to answer your question. Until Quora finds a way to put some normalization onto the questions, the pile is just going to get bigger and harder to sift through. And this normalization is a hard problem, particularly for subjective questions, which is what currently predominates in Quora. It won’t be an easy thing for them to fix. Wikipedia (to which many comparisons are made relative to Quora) has a pretty clear information architecture, and a dis-ambiguation mechanism, and it’s data model elements are primarily (simple) nouns (Places, People, Topics) – whereas Quora’s primary content are usually (complex) subjectively phrased questions.

Here’s an example. I was researching a blog post about the future of checkins, and wanted to get a sense for the future on Foursquare – user trends and user perceptions. Here’s what I found when I did my search for Foursquare:

foursquare: Has foursquare’s growth been stalling?
foursquare: How many users are using Foursquare in Europe?
foursquare: Are people growing out of Foursquare and opting for Facebook Places instead?
foursquare: Is Silicon Valley’s love affair with Foursquare over?
Will Foursquare survive?
Is Foursquare effectively dead?
How many people use Foursquare?
Why do people do Foursquare?
Will Facebook Places kill Foursquare?
How big is Foursquare in Japan?
How many Indonesians use Foursquare?
How long will Foursquare last?
Why is Foursquare so hot?
Why is Foursquare failing to evolve?
What’s the appeal of Foursquare?
Which public numbers are available concerning Foursquare?
Is Twitter Places going to destroy foursquare?
How many Italian foursquare users are there?
How many users do Foursquare and Gowalla have?
What is the primary driver of Foursquare usage?
How is Facebook Places doing compared to Foursquare?
Why is Facebook Places not taking on Foursquare?

Each of these with anywhere from zero to dozens of answers from random people. And trust me, I just got tired of cutting and pasting, there’s plenty more Questions where this came from. How do I make sense out of all of that? Who’s answering the questions, how insightful are they, ….There’s just no way to make sense out of all this information. And that’s just with the service in it’s new state – what happens when they have an order of magnitude more people questioning and answering?

Until they solve that problem, the pile will just get bigger and people will stop reading & answering.

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3 thoughts on “The real problem with Quora”

  1. Yes I totally share your view. I felt completely disoriented whence I first arrived there. I simply couldn’t understand what questions I ought to be asking!

    I was just sent another type of Q&A site, Omgili – http://omgili.com/ – and wondered if you could offer any feedback about it. The site must be new and not used by many since there are only 360 Facebook Likes ?

  2. I wasn’t aware of omgili. I tried it out. I find the UI kind of perplexing – lots of stuff going on and it’s hard to parse. I think the other thing omgili has problems with is the authority of the commentators – it’s pretty anonymous. Quora at least has attracted a pretty high quality of responders, many of whom can be identified and their authority deduced. This is also because I think a huge percentage of their content is Silicon Valley Startup related, whereas omgili is pretty general purpose.

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