Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Got a question? Is Quora and Yahoo Answers the best resource?

Everyday I'm asked questions and depending on the question I may not readily have it available. For the most part I am able to answer them all without much delay. The reason is, as Leo Laporte puts it, I've outsourced my brain. Where as on his radio and netcast shows he utilizes a chatroom full of knowledgeable listeners, I ask the all knowing Google.

It's not that Google itself is the source for answers but a directory of where to find what I'm looking for. And since Google focuses on relevance and speed, I normally find what I need without spending much time resubmitting a search query or searching via alternate methods. So do I need a specialized site of questions & answers?

Picture from Digital Trends
There was a lot of buzz (no that's not a Google pun), around when it first launched. The site boasts itself as a crowd-sourced Q&A community. The debate from it's launch was how could it be different than Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers allowed you to post a question and have a community answer it for you. The problem however was a lack of a community so questions could go without being answered or answers weren't properly being crowd-sourced.

Quora was suppose to be different. He was being hyped up by the tech community and the site looked promising. Today was the first time in two months that I had logged in. I had been highly active in the beginning answering questions multiple times a day and even asking a few myself. It's not that anything turned me off to the site but it started being neglected as I prioritized it less and less.

I didn't have a shortage of questions though. However when I needed a question answered I would turn my browser to Google and type the question into the search box, question mark and all. Most of the time I get the answer instantaneously. So why is there a need for specialized Q&A sites?

The answer for Quora at least may not be to grow a huge community to hit critical mass but rather create a platform to be integrated into other sites and organizations. On July 19th, three reporters from the New York Times answered questions on Quora by it's members. The Quora platform is great for a forum like this because even if you don't have a question to ask you can still watch the conversation unfold from Quora's real-time commenting ability.

This may be the next big thing to hit the social world. With Facebook, Google+, and Twitter essentially becoming large silos hording users it's going to be extremely difficult if not flat out impossible to dethrone any of them. Even at the latest Facebook announcement, Zuckerberg stated that their focus was less on gaining subscribers and more on increasing content shared and being a platform for developers to create on top of.

Where Facebook wants to be a new the next platform people develop for what if a site like Quora focused on being a specific Q&A platform to be integrated into blogs, sites, and other web applications. To clarify having users and members join the site is still important but Facebook is so big that it's growth will naturally slow down and a site like Quora isn't going to "steal" users from anywhere.

But if Quora changed it's focus to being a full Q&A solution that could be easily integrated on a site then it would have a different business strategy that would be easier to succeed at. As Facebook's subscriber growth slows, the social behemoth has diversified itself. Now sites can integrate Facebook to handle comments and posts by readers, all they need to do is enter in their Facebook login.

In a web environment where communities and social networks are easily reached to find help, a niche Q&A site like Quora may not gain momentum for it's intended purpose. Most startups though do go through quite a bit of change as they grow and I believe that Quora shows much promise, just not in the Q&A world.

I made some pretty bold predictions with this posting, please let me know if you agree or disagree! And for the record, I love Quora. I just think it needs to be adaptive to be truly successful. 

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