Summary:

With the release of Verified Profiles, Quora is offering users a chance to ask questions to public figures in a town-hall style format.

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photo: Gigaom Illustration

Social networks are a powerful place to hold town-hall style discussions about practically anything, but nowhere has taken off quite like Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” (AMA). Reddit has played host to a variety of civilian and public figures, from Bill Gates and Barack Obama  to  Bill Nye and David Copperfield, inviting users to ask whatever they want and wait for an answer.

The AMA is an effective platform that has drawn plenty of attention, but it’s maddeningly difficult to wade through at times because of Reddit’s format. In fact, entire websites, like the recently launched Interviewly, are devoted to turning Reddit AMAs into organized, readable products. Now Q&A Platform Quora sees an opportunity to ocompete. The company launched a new feature, “Verified Profiles” on Monday.

On Reddit, AMA subjects often verify their account by posting a picture of themselves, along with secondary proof on an official Twitter or Facebook account. With Verified Profiles, Quora’s done the hard work already, meaning that a permanently verified account page lets users to ask questions directly to that account. The verified figure can answer  questions overtime, and users can read the answers without having to fit through the noise to find them. The first independently verified Quora account was made for President Barack Obama, specifically to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act.

The move into Verified Profiles is a big one for Quora, especially as it goes up against Reddit — which has become somewhat of a titan in social media. Quora famously refuses to give out its growth and user statistics, but it’s safe to say that it doesn’t come close to matching Reddit’s traffic, which saw 731 million unique visitors in 2013. While Quora will likely never be able to match Reddit in size or variety, Verified Profiles gives an air of credibility and formality that Reddit AMAs usually do not — an important niche for Town Hall discussions that may ultimately attract more buttoned-up public figures to the platform instead of Reddit in the long run.

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Despite the possibilities Quora’s Verified Profiles opens up, though, the system feels very closed off compared to Reddit’s AMA. Reddit’s AMA system may be haphazard and chaotic, but it works because it allows anyone to offer up their perspectives to a wider group with very little set-up. Quora’s Verified Profiles system is more rigid and structured — while it works well for long-term activity, it doesn’t have the immediacy or “live” feeling that Reddit reproduces online. It also feels less personal, at least if you take President Obama’s initial Q&A as an example. Rather than answering questions directly from the people, many of the answers he’s given thus far seem to come from canned questions, meaning that there’s no room for the frank honesty and humor that accompanied his AMA back in 2012.

Nonetheless, Quora is slowly gathering the materials it needs to make it easier to access public figures. It may not contend quite yet with Reddit’s AMA, but it has the potential to get there, especially if enough users prefer structure to a more personal touch.

 

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