In recent weeks, Quora has rapidly become the shiny new object du jour, and has grabbed the attention of technology writers and the digital elite. Sign-ups are rising meteorically which has a lot of people asking, what makes Quora superior to existing online Q&A and reference sites?
Using a semiotic square to understand the online information landscape:
I threw together the simple semiotic square above to help explain why Quora may well succeed. As this analysis indicates, Quora has managed to foster a burgeoning information community that reconciles openness with authoritative quality of content; an opposition that has been a challenge for earlier entrants in the Q&A space. Quora achieves this partly by helping users frame question intent while effectively signifying member subject authority.
Better Q&A through exclusion:
Quora offers much richer Q&A content than competitors through the types of users the service attracts. Quora is decidedly sparse in its layout and offers no obvious “getting started” welcome mat for new users. This absence of explanation (contrast Quora’s homepage to Posterous, for example) likely deters the web’s hoi polloi and favors digerati. The interaction design follows the visual paradigm of social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, familiar territory for the types of users Quora tacitly aims to attract.
How Quora signifies authority and accountability:
As with other online Q&A sites, Quora lets users up-vote content they deem high quality and trustworthy. But unlike these sites, user identity plays a much greater role in the Quora experience. Yahoo! Answers, for example, uses avatars, made-up user names, and limited profiles. Contrast this with Quora’s lengthier member profiles that are typically tied to social graphs (the site encourages you to integrate your Facebook and Twitter accounts with Quora). Users are thus motivated to provide thoughtful Q&A as their reputation is on the line. In short, real-life identities and social graphs become symbolic stand-ins for offline credentials.
Good syntax keeps the bar high:
Grammatically correct questions promote quality of responses. As a post on Quora notes, “clear questions address the ‘broken windows’ mentality: if people see sloppy, incoherent or half-formed questions, they will tend to the same in responses (consciously or not).” With Quora, questions are not owned by askers. Questions can be edited by the community, promoting a higher quality experience compared with other Q&A sites.