January 7, 2011
I’ve spent a few days thinking about the seemingly rapid rise of Q&A site Quora. While a great case study for the value that utilizing Cloud infrastructure can bring, my thoughts are more about the speed at which Quora seems to have become the property du jour. I only started using the service a week or so ago and have managed to gain a couple of hundred followers and helped create something of a storm that even had the usually austere Gartner joining the fray.
But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about the macro issues that meteoric growth like that enjoyed by Quora can cause. Remember if you will all the way back to November last year, when Foursquare was the service that was filling everyones Twitter columns with all those exciting checkins (yes, I’m looking at you Spencer). It seemed like every day another one of my formerly quiet follows were suddenly blasting their locations from the rooftops.
Today it seems (at least from an entirely non-statistically valid review of my Twitter follows) that Foursquare (and the other location services) have been forgotten in the headstrong rush to be active on Quora. Completely different use case for sure, but still it seems that people are jumping onto the latest “thing”.
The flip side of meteoric growth is rapid slump, it’s entirely possible that Quora’s glory will only last a couple of months or so (I bet they’re hoping Google hurries up with that acquisition offer). The problem is that in the meantime the marketplace gets all screwed up.
Another vaguely similar site to Quora is Focus.com (disclosure – I’m an unpaid focus.com expert on Cloud). True, Focus is a more, ahem, focused offering that limits itself to specific topic areas, but to the casual observer, they’re one and the same. Focus has been slowly gaining momentum over a number of year, building a community of qualified “experts” and a broad product offering (webinars, Q&A and written reports). My fear is that in the virally fuelled rush to get with Quora, less hyped properties like focus might just be forgotten.
Why does that matter? Isn’t it just case of the market choosing the best service? I’m not so sure. Chris Selland posted about his experience as a Focus.com expert running a webinar that garnered 500 attendees and more than 150 questions(!) during the Q&A. That’s an impressive showing and arguably beats the quantity (possibly over quality) over on Quora. My comments could be seen s being somewhat contradictory when viewed against my recent post about community based analysis. But I contend that rapid, virally fueled growth is in fact an aberration that reduced the ability of quality to truly rise to the surface. To take an economics 101 perspective on it, rapid and semi-hysteric growth is just the thing that denies the marketplace the perfect knowledge that it needs to perform effectively…
I don’t have any answers to the issues I raise, but am concerned that at a macro level the sort of growth that we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years (be it Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or Quora) is a real risk to the quality of the web we hold dear.