Quora is a question and answer site, where anyone can sign up for an account and start posting questions or responding to questions posted on the site. The company’s mission is to “share and grow the world’s knowledge.” It was founded when Adam d’Angelo, former CTO of Facebook and Harvard classmate with Mark Zuckerberg, and Charlie Cheever, former Facebook engineer, realized that the existing questions and answers sites, Yahoo Answers and Answers.com, are terrible but still popular. It differs from Wikipedia in the way that its content is driven by questions, reflecting what its users are curious about.
Since its founding day in 2009, Quora has garnered a massive following, first in the tech startup community in Silicon Valley, and later extend to more exogenous subjects such as farming and Romania. The company currently has no revenue, its operating expenses are funded by $141 million of venture capital, based on the promise that one day its database of comprehensive, honest, authentic questions and answers can be searched and monetized. The company recently launched its ads product with a team of 3 advertising executives.
How Quora incentivizes participation
Quora incentivizes participation through the organic gratification of being acknowledged an expert by a community of equally smart people.
After a user signs up for an account, their homepage will be filled with question-answer threads corresponding with their declared interests. The feed gets more personalized the more time the user spends on the platform. Among its early adopters, Quora is claimed to be highly addictive. Characterizing the platform’s success, “I think the lesson of Quora,” Max Levchin, a Paypal cofounder says, “is that successful people are just as vain and just as interested in praise for a good answer as anybody.”
A number of mechanisms are used on Quora to keep people engaged. A user can upvote or downvote an answer, getting as specific as rating it “authentic” or “not helpful”. After a question is posted, Quora will suggest experts and give posters the option to ask them to chime in. Everything a user does on Quora is posted on their feed/profile, enforcing authenticity. Creating and maintaining a reputation on Quora is highly desirable, as the platform is viewed by some as “the only thing intellectually stimulating on the Internet”.
How Quora manages the crowd
To maintain its reputation for honest intelligence and wisdom, Quora leverages a network of volunteers who trim, correct answers and reword questions. Volunteers often send answers back to their authors with markups and suggested changes. Michael Wolfe, one of the volunteers, acknowledged that he considers his volunteering on Quora a “benefit to the professional community to which he belongs”.
Additionally, the question and answer format and the intellectual rigor maintained on the platform encourage debates from different perspectives, some of which hard to get such as Keith Rabois, Barack Obama and Corey Booker. Inherently, incorrect information will be corrected and diverse opinions would be surfaced.
As Quora grows, its challenges are two-fold. The first one is growing outside of the Silicon Valley community. The questions and answers on Quora are only as good as the community that create them, and to expand outside of tech startups, the company needs to thoughtfully engage influencers where they want to expand. It will be particularly challenging to grow communities that are not spatially located such as Silicon Valley (physically and online), as the word of mouth effect won’t be as strong.
The second challenge is to maintain the quality of questions and answers as the community grows. Naturally, once Quora exhausts the top tier of intellectuals, its later users will diverge from the norms it has established and agreed upon by the community. Community self-policing could also deter growth. One user dropped out of the platform after he was fed up with Quora’s “petty bureaucrats” who police the site with their “arbitrary rules” and “righteous” attitude.
Quora’s first value creation is the democratization of knowledge, opinions and perspectives that otherwise would not be accessible. It also allows users to create an online reputation and influence in their area of expertise. To institutions, it provides signals on what is being said about them. And the final value creation is the digitalization of knowledge, perspectives and thoughts about how the world works, some would go as far as equalizing it to the Library of Alexandria.
With its recently established advertising team, Quora will be slowly building its ads product, providing its first source of revenue. The real money will come later on as the “product”, the database of searchable questions and answers, is large enough to be significant. Currently, Quora’s main challenge remains how to grow its community thoughtfully and meaningfully.