Getting good information is the point, right? That is why we troll the Web, after all. When we are not connecting, of course. It helps if you can get a nice helping of intelligent conversation on the side. There is a lot of muck on the big sites, partially because they seem to be trying to be all things to all people or don’t offer effective enough filters. To me, the best filter is the human filter – find the smart people and read what they have to say and view what they have to share. And maybe even talk to them.
Quora has all the makings of a very smart social service. It has been around for a year or so, but seems to be picking up quite a bit of steam of late. At its core, it is a collection of questions and related answers. From their own description:
Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: “Oh, great! That’s going to have all the information I want about that.” It’s also a place where new stuff–that no one has written about yet–can get pulled onto the web.
What it is functionally becoming is a high quality social network with a focus on value-laden information transfer. Community-edited and almost Wiki-like, but with much greater fluidity via a news stream of content of the most interest to you, Quora is very exciting indeed. People can vote up answers or hide answers they believe are not helpful, offering the person originally answering an opportunity to hone the answer to better fit. This community “policing”, if you will, encourages higher quality responses and, in turn, more effective information for all users. Quora has a sharper edge than a traditional wiki in that it focuses on questions rather than general research topics. And, so far, it appears to have a very dynamic community ready to rate up or down answers, which helps assure me, at least, that the answers might be more reliable. A far more dynamic community than, say, Wikipedia, for example.
It also helps that some very smart people are using the site. I frequently see answers by the usual suspects in tech journalism, which is not surprising for a cool new tool. What I am not so used to seeing is participation by founders, programmers, entrepreneurs and top business sorts. The kind of people you might want to interact with. I am also starting to see lawyers, which is very exciting to me. A site with such broad-appeal and the endorsement of the tech elite seems to have more than half a chance at survival.
For professionals, the opportunity to ask and answer questions is a our bread and butter – look at the lawyers all over LinkedIn Groups and the legal questions and answers there. Quora has some of that element to it, but you won’t be able to get away with a half-hearted answer – be prepared to come prepared. I have seen a few legally-minded discussions on the site and I imagine that it’s just the beginning.
For content consumers, the community does the work for you – the best answers are pushed to the top and the bad stuff is hidden from view. In theory, anyway, community wisdom should serve as a most effective filter.
How do I get started? you ask. Select some topics of interest on the site and follow them. Then browse questions in those topics and answer any you feel comfortable answering. Questions have pages, comprised of answers, which can be voted up or down by you, if warranted. And, of course, being that its social, find your peeps (via Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc.). And watch the good times roll.