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.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Great post Ben – personally I’m not surprised that there tends to be a rush to the next ‘bright shiny object’ – in ’10 it was Foursquare, in ’11 it seems to be Quora. What causes any of these sites to be important isn’t the initial rush of us early adopters, but whether they stick around and grow longer-term – and whether they get adopted by the mainstream (a la Facebook & LinkedIn).

    As for your quality vs. quantity question – I think about this a lot. As mentioned I fielded 150 questions yesterday but we only had time to answer 10 – and probably only 30-40 were even answer-worthy. There will always be a role for experts to sort out, synthesize and interpret the quantity. But if I’m a vendor trying to get to the buyer – my main point is why go through the ‘experts’ – when these days you have the opportunity to go straight to the source. Find the communities that are hosting the conversations, and dive in.

  • Nice post, Ben.

    For me, it’s been really interesting to see the rise of Quora simply because I’ve found it somewhat fills a niche as a halfway house between 140 characters on twitter and full-scale blogs.

    It’s interesting to see the different levels folks are at in their understanding of the industry trends (based on the questions being asked).

    Above all, in answering some of the questions, it’s helped me galvanize my own thoughts in a way that the usual trials and tribulations of any given day would never afford me time to do.

    It feels a little different for practical use in business than a Yammer (for example) as it is a lot more focused by definition. Questions, however vague, usually spark some kind of response in someone, as opposed to a Yammer where you can simply enter any random garbage – this devalues the social phenomenon in some enterprises as it is seen as “distraction” rather than value.

    It will be interesting to see if Quora “take it” to enterprises by offering on-premise or private versions. If they don’t, hot on their heels will be folks like Mindquilt and no doubt countless others making a bee-line for the sweet spot of “instant knowledge” inside large, complex organizations.

  • Hi Ben. An interesting and timely blog. I’m interested why StackExchange didn’t make it into your analysis? Also, you should have a look at this – I think you’ll find it interesting: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/the-wikipedia-of-long-tail-programming-questions/


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