Is Quora Worth the Hype?

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Around the end of the year, the hype surrounding Quora kicked into overdrive. The Q&A site first raised eyebrows with a round of financing last March that valued it at $86 million. Lately it’s being called the savior of search and the next Facebook. But is Quora worth all the fuss? I take a detailed look over at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Search Replacement?

Arguably, Quora’s biggest innovation is “crowd curation.” Lately, the same blogger community that has taken to Quora has been complaining about Google. Google search results are cluttered with spam and links to low-quality posts from content farms like Demand Media, the bloggers charge. The solution? Relevancy enforced by human beings rather than algorithms. But hiring editors doesn’t scale as well as writing software, that is, unless you can crowdsource those editors for free, which is exactly what Quora is doing.

But Quora is also wisely allowing Google to index its content, and practicing SEO well enough that Quora answers are starting to show up in Google results. Google’s own PageRank algorithm has always harnessed some wisdom from the crowd by analyzing link popularity. Google engineers are smart enough to create or license other indicators of source authority and influence — whether they’re Klout Twitter authority scores or derived from professional content databases.

Differentiating from the Q&A Crowd

Quora is far from alone in the Q&A space. Facebook Questions appears aimed at generating status update activity and real-time responses. It feels more like personal expression than knowledge management, and thus may be a bigger threat to a company like Formspring, whose Q&A pages Om likened to blog comments without the blog. Yahoo Answers, the granddaddy of them all, generates lots of page views but little in the way of revenues and often generates responses more  funny than useful. To avoid this, Quora is scrambling — so far quite successfully — to impose protocols on its users for asking, answering, editing, and tagging questions and answers in order to preserve their quality and add structure to the Quora data folksonomy.

To see which paths Quora’s evolution might take read my full analysis (subscription required).

Image source: flickr user alexanderdrachmann

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