Quora – Crowdsourcing human knowledge

How Quora become the #140 most visited website in the world by leveraging human instincts around helping others and getting recognized.

Quora is a platform for people to post questions and seek answers from the crowd. Multiple people could answer the same question in any way they like and the crowd could surface the “best answer” by upvoting/downvoting the provided answers. Users could follow people or topics they are particularly interested in and would want to either increase their knowledge or contribute to the wisdom out there on a particular topic.

Many people question the very existence of Quora because Google already exists to find the answers for us. There is an interesting difference in the approach followed by the two companies. While Google is great at optimizing the search results and ranking of all the content out there (including websites, blogs, content from Quora etc.), Google does not facilitate the creation of the content. On the other hand, Quora is built as a platform where people could easily create high-quality content without the need to build more websites/blogs. These are fundamentally two different approaches to solving the same problem around answering users questions.

Crowd Management:

Quora allows free use of its platform to all the users to post questions and answers. It gives an opportunity for knowledge seekers to learn more about a particular topic as well as for experts to share their knowledge. Since other people can rate the answers, there is an incentive to write a well thought-out answer. Also, since other people choose what questions they want to answer, there is an equally good incentive to ask genuine questions. This balance on both sides, help Quora ensure high-quality content remains on the platform.

Quora also gives an opportunity to its users to build a reputation as an expert in a particular field by posting frequently high-quality answers about a certain topic. This ensures continuous engagement of experts on the platform along with the constant creation of high-quality content. Adam D’Angelo, the founder of Quora and ex-CTO of Facebook, strongly believes that “You’re answering questions because you want to build your reputation or you genuinely, intrinsically enjoy helping people.” Quora has been pretty successful in leveraging this basic human tendency of helping others and getting recognition to build its platform.


Value creation and capture:

Quora creates value by making it easier to crowdsource the human knowledge in an easy to consume Q&A format. It facilitates the creation of high-quality content from the crowd and makes it accessible to everyone on the internet, basically democratizing the creation and consumption of knowledge. It had more than 80M monthly unique visitors and was #140 most visited website in the world.

Needless to say that Quora creates immense value by leveraging the power of crowd but it hasn’t started monetizing the platform yet. Its current focus is solely on building the highly valuable database of high-quality Q&A and building its community of active users. With the highly engaged community and the rich database, it should not be too hard for Quora to eventually capture the value it is creating. There could be multiple ways of monetising its platform:

  • Internet Advertising: Serve sponsored advt. based on search query just like Google
  • Jobs and Career: refer experts to relevant companies/job roles
  • Enterprise portal: paid version of Quora for companies to collate internal knowledge from employees
  • Promoted questions/answers: Monetising users desire to promote their question/answers

Overall, Quora has been very successful in leveraging the crowdsourcing model to create value by building an easy to use platform and incentivising the crowd in the right fashion. The next step in its journey would be to capture the value that it has created.



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Student comments on Quora – Crowdsourcing human knowledge

  1. Anish, very interesting to read about your ideas for how Quora could ultimately capture value. Given the founder’s vision of creating an environment where contributors “genuinely, intrinsically enjoy helping people,” I have to wonder whether they will ultimately move toward actually capturing value… or is this is against their culture / mission? Instead of monetizing with ads or promoted answers, do you think Quora has enough of a following to instead adopt a donation campaign model (similar to Wikipedia)?

    1. Donation model for Wikipedia works because of its not-for-profit status whereas Quora is a venture-backed company. Its investors can make money only when Quora has a sustainable business model of capturing value. Also, with relevant sponsored ads that are targeted and help the user to get to their answers, I think that aligns with their mission as well.

  2. Cool post Anish. I’ve used Quora since its early days and still browse it for fun on occasions. I’ve noticed that more and more posts are authored by “anonymous,” and there seems to have been an increase in “anonymous” answers as well. These posts are usually more scandalous and of way lower quality, since there is no reputation risk to the writer.

    Do you think Quora should remove the ability to post anonymously in order to revert back to higher quality content? Or do you think net-net posting anonymously is beneficial for the platform?

    1. I agree with you that ‘anonymous’ is a very popular feature on Quora and there are potential side effects to its popularity as well. But net-net, I think it still helps the platform by encouraging more users to contribute and since others can rate the response, there is still some level of filtering that happens. Due to the nature of the platform, there are bound to be few bad apples, and hence, Quora should not penalize all its user base by taking away a feature that is used in a genuine fashion.

  3. Nice post Anish! I am a big fan of Quora and think it’s interesting to see many of my friends as super users by writing long answers to questions. I always wonder what the motivation is here, because they are not people that necessarily always go out of their way to “help people” in other aspects of their lives. This is cynical, but I wonder if there is a less altruistic motivation which is that people simply like to “show off” their knowledge. If this is true, then there are many other knowledge-sharing businesses that could be built to exploit this intrinsic human need to brag about what we know 🙂

    1. Totally with you on this one, Ravneet that many people like to show-off or build a reputation of an expert on Quora. I think there are already many business that have used this human need to build large companies like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Medium, StackOverflow, Wikipedia, Amazon reviews etc. I still think there is an element of giving back or at least a hope of some personal development that pushes you to write a long form answer on Quora.

  4. Love the Quora example. Particularly because, as others have noted, it’s a fascinating incentive structure — people do tend to use Quora to build street cred and a positive reputation in a professional capacity. I think it’s a fact of life — humans like to show other humans how much they know.

    My concern about Quora stems from something that Megan Wu mentioned in her Wikipedia post … Wikipedia has discovered that many of their contributors are male. I would not be surprised if the demographic of Quora commenters also skews white / male / silicon valley. It makes me wonder the following two questions: 1) Is the Quora content fundamentally flawed in that it’s heavily biased towards a certain demographics’ viewpoint? and 2) What can Quora do to better encourage diversity of thought and perspectives on the platform?

    1. Excellent question on diversity of perspectives on Quora. Quora currently hosts annual gatherings where, similar to Yelp, Quora elites are gathered together for special days that include cool events and mixers. They could encourage more diversity by making sure to invite a wider range of Quora users for the events, have events focused on topics that would be interesting to a broader cross-section of people, and host them in different locations.

  5. Thanks for the post Anish! There is a copycat of Quora in China (of course), Zhihu (meaning ‘you know?’ in ancient Chinese), and I like it a lot! One major challenge Zhihu right now facing is that it is still a niche market player and even die-heart fan like myself doubt its ability to scale up. The dilemma is that because its user community is highly self-selected and in small size, the overall quality of contents on the platform is extremely high and thus users are very loyal; however, if it manages to attract more mainstream users, which is necessary for meaningful monetization, the core user might be chased out from the platform due to content quality decrease and the lack of sense of exclusiveness. I wonder if Quora is facing the same issue.

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