January 9th, 2011

What is Quora?

Quora is a question and answer site that can be described as a mash-up of Yahoo! Answers, Wikipedia and Facebook.  It is like Yahoo! Answers because it users can post questions and anyone can answer.  It is like Wikipedia because users can edit and clarify questions posted by others.  It is like Facebook because users can “vote up” a response, moving it up in the stream.  But it is also different than all of these existing social channels.

It is much more professionally leaning than Yahoo! Answers: the people answering questions are credentialed to answer the questions in some way.  Evan Williams, found of Twitter logs on and answers Twitter questions.  A Facebook designer answered a question about icon design.  According to Mashable, those that tend to be early adopters of social technology are the ones using Quora:”Despite some assertions that Quora has gained a broader audience, it seems to be heavily trafficked by technologists, those in the media industry and social media types.”  However,

“In some ways, Quora has a broad appeal: answering specific questions and questions you didn’t know you had but that interest you. When users go to a search engine like Google, they are looking for specific information. Quora is similar, but, instead of an algorithm, you get answers from people who are knowledgeable about the topic. It’s similar to a social search engine.”

Although people can edit your questions, they can’t edit your answers; they can only post another answer disputing your response, blog comment-style, making it different than Wikipedia.

And, as for Facebook, where you have to find people or brands to follow, with Quora, you can also enter topics to get Q&A related to those topics feeding into your stream.

Although the site launched in 2009, it is just now gaining momentum despite an uphill battle for the users of all of the existing outlets listed above:

“Quora is up against mainstream competition. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t be a great place to get your questions answered; after all, the service has already attracted the likes of top-level CEOs. But it may have trouble winning users from mainstream services like Yahoo Answers, and the newer Facebook Question, as many will not want to join ‘another network.’” (Mashable)

How can businesses use Quora?  To get answers, of course.  I am new to Quora, too.  While I am still trying to figure out its potential value, my initial interest is in consumer research.  We are constantly trying to figure out how to learn more about our consumers, quickly and efficiently.  A tool that reaches those not already following your brand on Facebook and Twitter, but with an interest in the topic you are researching could be a powerful resource:

“Imagine the ability to really ask serious and honest questions of your consumers and community members. Think about the significant back and forth that can take place. Imagine what it’s like when each answer can be voted up by everyone in an equal and public fashion. While all of that has been doable for some time, it’s now taking place in a very public forum (that neither brand nor consumer “owns”). It’s also a place that is not limited to 140 characters or being mixed in with a personal profile page or a Blog that sits within a walled garden.” (Six Pixels of Separation)

It has been a while since a new social tool has caught the attention of bloggers and the technology media, so it is possible they are grasping for anything that might be interesting to discuss.  Or, it might be that Quora will catch on with mainstream users.  Regardless, if you are looking for answers, it is worth checking out and exploring.

UPDATE: Just came across this article that talks about maintaining the quality of the posts as growth continues to a more mainstream audience.

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