“Today Quora is largely questions and answers, but that is not the ideal format for all knowledge. Other formats will gradually be added as we scale up,” Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo wrote yesterday on the company blog. The clarification of Quora’s mission statement also expressed the site’s intention to give an audience to people who have insight but aren’t famous.
D’Angelo’s statements position Quora to increasingly compete with other knowledge bases, as well as publishing platforms.
Quora and Wikipedia have long been seen as complementary, with Jimmy Wales’ site serving as a supposedly objective reference guide for the world, while Quora offers subjective answers to popular questions. In that way, Quora is sort of an overlay of human opinion that ties together different topics on Wikipedia.
But Quora has had trouble continuing to grow, and has yet to announce or implement monetization schemes. Broadening its scope could help.
One route it could take would be moving into Wikipedia-style definitions but with a subjective tone instead of an author-less crowdsourced approach.
Another format Quora could try would be rankings or Top 10 lists. Ever popular online because they’re easy to snack on, Quora could use its upvoting and downvoting mechanism to allow collaborative sorting of these lists.
Video has arisen as a popular format for knowledge sharing, as seen with the popularity of learning platforms like Khan Academy. Perhaps Quora could inspire its contributors to record videos on the subjects they know best.
If you read D’Angelo’s post closely, though, it seems Quora has its sights set on becoming a blogging platform.
“The internet was supposed to allow anyone to set up a web page and share their knowledge with the world. But in practice it’s too difficult and takes too long and almost no one does it. Blogs are easy to start, but unless the author is famous, it takes years to build a following. More than a billion people use the internet yet only a tiny fraction contribute their knowledge to it.”
This is in fact a massive problem. Many people have one topic they know enough about to be able to teach others. But they don’t have a podium. The sustained content output required to build a significant audience is beyond what most can produce.
Quora’s voting and community system could solve that. Users could upvote great posts they discover and nominate them to be featured on the site. Instead of reverse chronological order like most blogs, Quora profiles or home pages could show the posts with the most upvotes first.
Moving into the blogging medium could actually pit Quora again Medium, the new Obvious Corporation platform for writing. It also started with the mission to give an audience to those lacking but deserving. Medium’s visually focused design could give it an edge, so Quora would need to break out of its utilitarian, maroon canvas.
For now, though, Quora’s company blog itself seems to be a prototype. If positioned as the smarter older brother to Tumblr that’s just as easy to use, Quora could experience a renaissance…or it could dilute the purpose of the site.
Quora’s real value is in the quality and vigor of its core user base. The company would need to be sure the community is onboard, and even involve them in the development process. But the fact is that Quora can’t stay the way it is. Its mission to spread knowledge certainly attracts great talent, but momentum is ailing. D’Angelo put $20 million of his own money into Quora’s last round, and co-founder Charlie Cheever recently stepped back from daily operations. A new format could breathe new life into the company.
D’Angelo concludes that “We hope to become an internet-scale Library of Alexandria, a place where hundreds of millions of people go to learn about anything and share everything they know. To do that we are going to have to expand.”
Quora, founded in June 2009, first launched in private beta in January 2010. Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question. One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking...