A Critical Juncture at Quora

After 10 days of navigating Quora after its latest product release, I understand the company’s choice to create “Boards” yet remain personally confused by the new feature.

On one hand, Quora has always struggled with the “discovery” aspect of surfacing content to users, and with the rise of Pinterest pinboards driving pageviews, boards on Quora takes that Pinterest concept and applies it to curation of links and text, though I have stumbled upon a few boards that are entirely visual in content and basically resemble Pinterest. Boards provide another product for Quora’s very active users to curate content from around the web (including Quora), with the hopes that these will drive engagement and hopefully help drive/route traffic.

On the other hand, as someone who follows the company closely and who uses the product every single day, I was confused and surprised by the move. Of course, I don’t have knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes, but as a user, my feeling was that Quora’s product was nearly complete. It works amazingly well. I ask tons of questions and always get a range of fascinating answers. I occasionally post things there, too, and love using the private messaging inbox. My impression was that the company, after hiring traffic and growth engineers, would step on the gas and get more people (and hopefully experts) contributing across a range of topics, and that it would become the default place online to ask questions, which is a huge component of search.

As it turns out, the company felt that the Q&A format may have been too rigid in helping foster connections between people around topics, so allowing them to curate and collaborate around boards could soften those edges. The result for me, unfortunately, is that it has added more noise to an already noisy product and newsfeed.

Quora is at a critical juncture. If Boards take root and grow, the product could be an entirely different place than it was just a few weeks ago. If Boards don’t pan out, they could always scale them back (or remove them altogether), reverting back to a Q&A site. As with anything this team does, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds, as they are facing two very different paths ahead of them. I myself will continue to do ask and answer questions on Quora, as well as to search, which I do often. My belief was that Quora would grow into a repository of knowledge around topics, a mashup of Wikipedia, Blogger, and Google for long-tail and/or social search. With boards, that calculus changes, and I can’t tell if it they will drive the product or just be a feature, though my gut instinct is that “pinning” pictures is easier and will drive better traffic than “pinning” text. I’ll just have to wait and see, and in the meantime, start creating some boards.

About Semil Shah

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

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