A Longer Response to @vwadhwa Post on Quora

UPDATED Sunday night:

Many people have contacted me about this post below and about the furor over Quora in general today. A few things up front:

  1. I have contributed a few posts to TechCrunch and I do not receive money for those;
  2. I am a fan of Quora and am biased to a degree, though my final TechCrunch post forthcoming on Quora will talk about the challenges facing the site in 2011, and will do so from a real user’s perspective
  3. Vivek makes very good points about highlighting some of the shortcomings in Quora’s incentive system; and
  4. What I’m writing below is an agnostic attempt to address many of the assumptions that Wadhwa made in his article.

I also had requests to elaborate on some of the points below, which I’ve now done. Finally, some have requested numbers — I’d love that, too, but I don’t have access to anything other than standard metrics, such as Alexa rankings, etc. Thanks again to everyone who interacted. ~S

There are some interesting nuggets in Vivek Wadhwa’s post on TechCrunch today about Quora. Let me say first that he’s right to highlight the holes in the voting incentive structure, but other than that, here are some reactions to why many of his assertions in the piece may have false premises:

  1. Many more than a “few tech elite” have contributed content to the site. I have interacted numerous times directly with professors, businesspeople, and a professional cook, all around topics other than tech, and more than once.
  2. He underestimates the power of asking “silly questions” which can in fact also be fun. He also assumes that Quora is just about questions and answers. Silly or esoteric questions connect people in random ways that we just don’t know about yet. People could connect around secondary interests, or interests they discovered through the site.
  3. He asserts Quora is a “private club” but in actuality, that was Quora’s Alpha and Beta. It’s OK for sites to invite small groups of targeted people to use the site and for the entrepreneurs to run a series of experiments.
  4. There is no need for Quora to be the next Facebook or Twitter. It’s a false comparison. Facebook and Twitter fill completely different needs, and after Quora, there will be another type of social network that taps into another need. There is room for more than what currently exists.
  5. He seems to be channeling on his own experience of receiving anonymous comment attacks by writing on controversial topics. This assumes that Quora the company isn’t aware of the gaming that can be done and won’t address it. I can sympathize with him here, as I’ve received a few nasty comments over the past month (especially from someone who will render this point quite ironic), and those messages can be scary in a way, sometimes. It’s easy to see how one could take an uber-cynical view about forums and chat-room behavior, but that’s also seriously underestimating what the team can do given their talents.
  6. He mentions separating “wheat from chaff,” but doesn’t talk about aggregated knowledge, like answer wikis. This leads me to believe he hasn’t used the site as much as he asserts.
  7. I’m pretty sure Quora stops fake accounts right from the start – one person, one Quora account, or the account may be suspended. You can search Twitter for “Quora block” and see lots of people bitching that Quora shut down their account because they wouldn’t use their real name. His fantasy of anonymity within Quora is misplaced.
  8. Silicon Valley does jump from fad to fad, but I’m not sure if that logically means Quora will be a victim of that behavior; they might succeed because of it. I liked his thoughts around what kind of hype system and echo chamber the Valley can be, and it’s great to have someone write about it intelligently, but attacking a company to prove his point struck me as reckless and had the effect of drowning out his argument. Why not just write two pieces, one about the hype machine in general, citing many examples, and then one about Quora? By combining the two, the good points he made will be harder to cull from his piece.
  9. The comparisons to Answers.com and Yahoo! Answers are apples to oranges. First, it assumes that Q&A is the only activity that will happen on the site. Second, the value of Quora is not and will not be measured through unique visitors and number of users. Quora users are highly segmented. Third, it assumes that the Quora team has not studied this, which I’m sure isn’t the case.
  10. He hasn’t signed up for a Quora account. He claims that he has used it and received “substantial input” to educate him on the space prior to his article, but just on Friday, my screenshot below shows that he’s in my list of people I should invite to Quora (see below, and yes, I forgot how to take a screenshot!). He may have been lurking under another name, but I can tell by the arguments he tried to make that he hasn’t used the site more than perhaps parachuting in from time to time.

About Semil Shah

Official contributor to @TechCrunch (since Jan 2011); from July 1, will begin EIR with @JavelinVP

9 responses to “A Longer Response to @vwadhwa Post on Quora”

  1. Tejus Sawjiani says :

    I can’t believe this guy hasn’t used quora and still finds himself qualified to comment!

  2. nvenkataraman1 says :

    I joined Quora recently and have enjoyed using it as a resource to pursue my interests and to share my experiences with relevant audiences. Some of my contributions have spoken about my experiences in Japan, business school and transportation, areas where I feel knowledgeable to contribute. As an aspiring entrepreneur, technical startup discussions have helped me understand startup life cycles and associated business perspectives. I also use Quora to refine my interests in photography and travel. I definitely think that Quora has a lot of potential for people like me, who quietly go about contributing and using the service to help our interests. In short, there are more use-cases and users of Quora beyond the tech-elite. Semil, you touch upon similar points.Having said that, Vivek has made some useful points that shouldn’t be lost in the furore over his message. Even without signing up, one can view Quora discussions and I feel (hope?) Vivek would have taken the time to read a few articles before commenting. I’m willing to give him the benefit of doubt on this.

  3. Jason says :

    1. Quora is amazing. 2. the person who wrote this techcrunch article is a nobody3. techcrunch has only one mode: slam people doing interesting or high quality work in order to get a couple of more page views and inbound links.4. techcrunch is still only a fraction of mashable’s traffic even with their absurd link-baiting articles.5. techcrunch was a solid publication three years ago when it was based on insight posts–not pandering ones designed to get a reaction. that is all. jcal

  4. Leslie Barry says :

    Quora is solving the problem that Google’s been trying to solve forever – creating the database of intentions.Quora takes a huge leap towards solving this by helping me with “what question do I ask to get the best answer” because someone has probably already taken the time to craft an intelligent and well-formed question to extract the best quality answers, and other clever people have decided what the best answer is.More here http://bit.ly/g9dIye

  5. mrjain says :

    Quora or any Q&A platform ends up having the same issue. At first, you get lots of signal and not much noise and in Quora’s case they highly curated the early questions and answers. But, as more users get on the platform you have a lot more noise and less signal.Can Quora still maintain the high level of quality when it is 10x or 100x it’s current size.

  6. starttowonder says :

    Well based on todays debate, I am sure Quora must have seen a spike. So all in all good or bad…fame, it helped quora.But I think I agree more with Vivek. But that does not mean I am saying Quora is going to die. I think it will be just another QA that will exist but without the hype or valuation running into 100 of Millions.The whole debate probarbly should be more objective. What would be the highest valuation of Quora. Because Vivek might have been comparing Quora to facebook and twitter for his article and you might be comparing to stackoverflow.So for you it might still exist as a successful company whereas for Vivek, it will be just another one in the pool.

  7. Semil Shah says :

    @ Tejus – He claims through Scoble that he created a fake account to monitor the site and had his students also conduct an analysis. I don’t buy that claim.@ Naveen – Yes, Vivek did make useful points, mainly that the current voting incentives on Quora are ripe for gaming, collusion.@ Jason – I like TechCrunch a lot, it’s not perfect, but I really like it.@ Start To Wonder – I don’t understand your comment, but I would bet that right now, today, their fair market valuation would be WAY more than $100M. Way more.

  8. starttowonder says :

    Semil, I meant that we should compare numbers about valuation of Quora. For you its valuation is in 100 of Millions as you see it worth that much. Way more. For Vivek he cant see that much of a worth.Since I already said, i kind a agree more with Vivek. Though I love quora myself. But I dont think there is too much upside for it in its current form. The difference is either you know something about Quora that i dont or You forsee products from Quora that I dont and those products you think would be killer.Even though I have doubts about Quora in its current form, I think they do have a great opportunity if they are able to open their private club and attract non geeky users as well.Maybe Quora should go after twitter. I posted another article (bit.ly/h3E7RP) few days back why twitter should be scared of not being another Myspace. I think Quora has a good opportunity doing a bigger better twitter.

  9. Semil Shah says :

    @ Start To Wonder — I can guarantee you that when Quora raises their Series B round, probably toward the end of this year, their valuation will be much much more than $100M, and whether one believes it or not, that will be the fair market price.

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