(Note from Beth: Geoff Livingston contributed to this post. Thanks Geoff! )
Over the holidays, I finally visited Quora, a social learning site focused around asking and answering questions founded by an ex-Facebook employee. Quora has been around for a year and provides an independent question platform from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn that is similar to Yahoo! Answers. It does heavily rely on Twitter and Facebook for promotion, adding it to the increasing amount of social middleware platforms that are being developed. According to one Quora volunteer, it has grown significantly in the past few weeks, indicating that it may have surpassed a tipping point.
I waited to join, in spite of receiving generic invitations from colleagues who had joined. Prior to the holidays I ignored them because I just couldn’t stomach “yet another social network.” So, what made me go check it out?
Ironically, it was my post “Reflection on Networked Professional Learning” where I linked to a post on Social Networks from Stephen Downes. In the post, he describes Quora as:
Quora is “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.” Neylon’s answer was one of the links in Brian Kelly’s article on Quora. Kelly was drawn to the site via a tweet from George Siemens pointing to a question about information overload and his answer (now superseded by Robert Scoble’s much better answer – sorry George).
I also got two track backs from Quora a few days later that Greg Meyer has referenced my post with a follow up question about learning and information overload on Quora. After reading and responding on the thread on information overload, it not only introduced to some new thinking around a topic I’m very interested in, but it made think. I wrote this reflection on balancing solitude and information overload summarizing what I read on Quora.
Some nonprofit colleagues, like my friend Manny Hernandez, are checking it out – as is Geoff Livingston.
Some first impressions:
Slower, Reflective Experience: The process of answering and asking questions is a reflective practice. That does not typically happen when you participate in the fast, staccato pace of most social spaces like Twitter. Quora offered focused attention, not reactive. It prompted deeper insights about at topic I’m interested. As Louis Gray suggests, it offers relevancy and community.
Subject Matter Expertise: My entry to Quora was through connections who come from the library and education areas and by side stepped into a couple of technology areas. I knew some of the participants on the thread, well-known bloggers, authors, librarians, educators, and thinkers. This conversation thread was rich, witty, and thoughtful. The site is also becoming popular with technology insiders in Silicon Valley. Take for example this thread about launching a start up at SXSW.
As I discovered with my initial forays, each question intelligently guides you to new people and new related topics and that keeps your interest in it strong. As more people use Quora, will the subject matter expertise and replication be diluted? Will it get corrupted with spammers and self-promoters? To get value from Quora, will it require even sharper curation skills? Louis Gray points out that a couple of safeguards have been built into the system, use of real identities and rating/voting of the answers, to prevent this from happening.
Object Based Social Sharing VS Social Graph Sharing: Objects are things like photos, bookmarks, slide decks, or in the case of Quora, questions. The ” Social Graph” is your network or the people you are connected with on social networks. Rashmi Sinhi, CEO of SlideShare, one of my favorite object-based social sharing sites, created this deck back in 2007 which talks about the evolution of social sharing. On Facebook and other social networks, we connect to information through our friends. Here we connect to the information and others who have an interest in it.
Serendipity and Pivot Browsing: The site uses tags to categorize and link questions or what is known as pivot browsing which is the ability to reorient the page view by clicking on tags or user names or questions and it provides a lightweight mechanism to navigate a collection of objects. You can use any of those links to look around you. You can change direction at any moment.
It is less structured and more free form than browsing traditional hierarchies. Rashmi Sinha uses this metaphor for pivot browsing: walking in the forests or some other open space, stopping to smell the pine, taking a break. You get the lay of the land as you walk around. The point is not just the destination, the point is the journey itself or serendipity.
Human Moderators: There is also some human moderation by the community. For example, removing or revising questions so they are more open-ended. The moderators responded to Geoff’s request for more information about having posts removed within 45 minutes. Geoff’s posts were removed because they were to yes or no oriented, and Quora does not allow for polling types of questions. The moderation is handled by Quora Admins who are not necessarily employees of the company. Their community use policy is also pretty extensive.
So, how might Quora be useful to nonprofit professionals? It looks like a good resource for professional networked learning and as adoption grows it might be a place to engage and developed deeper relationships with supporters. At minimum asking a question and linking to it on Facebook and Twitter, and possibly even a blog post. What do you think?