Will Quora find its place among the stars?

Every once in a while, a shiny new social network or application strikes the right cord with the early adopter crowd. Call it perfect timing, luck, or some combination of the two. Twitter felt this boost in 2007, Foursquare managed to be the darling of 2009 at SXSW, and Quora has really come into its own over the last few months.

Quora is a social network based on the collaborative accumulation of knowledge, authenticity, and the wisdom of the crowd. Their website describes Quora as “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.”

The site has been gaining users at an astonishing rate lately, hitting a milestone on December 28th, when it appeared as a trending topic on Twitter for the San Francisco area.

Will this love affair fade away, or will it evolve into something that perseveres?

I sat down with Louis Gray, one of the best-known early adopters of these services, to get an inside perspective on the value of Quora, and whether or not its star will fade. Gray is frequently quoted in the press on the topics of technology and information consumption, has been one of the top power users on social networks such as FriendFeed, Google Buzz, and is now one of the most-followed users on Quora.

See our conversation paraphrased below, or listen to the full audio here:

Louis Gray on Quora 1-11-11 by bremmel


BR: What drew you to Quora initially?

LG: Quora provides first-person analysis about the topics I’m interested in. People who are not usually very forthcoming about how they run their business are willing to answer in long-form detail why they made certain decisions. It’s been a great way to get access to people that you really can’t find anywhere else.

Some of the most popular examples of this include Netflix CEO Steve Hastings or AOL former CEO Steve Case. You also get to find venture capitalists talking about why they make certain predictions as they are making them.

BR: As a user, what do you use Quora for primarily? Are you answering questions, or asking them?

LG: This is a network where I mostly consume information; I don’t need to be answering everything. If there’s a unique opportunity where I have information that has not yet been answered, I’m happy to provide it.

In most cases, I’m following technology conversations and people who have unique insight. I think this is unique to the service and hopefully will sustain it: having access to these people and insights that you can’t get anywhere else.

BR: What similarities do you see to other social networks? Which would you say is the most similar right now?

LG: There are lots of similarities of Quora with networks who have come and gone. It was started by two former Facebook employees. One interesting thing about Quora is its focus on authenticity. This gives the community a voice to select the best answer. Like Wikipedia, Quora also allows the community to make sure that the accuracy is there.

BR: Has your activity on Quora reduced your time spent in other networks (like Twitter)?

LG: Quora has become yet another place to have activity. I think it’s more exciting to answer questions on Quora because there’s a long form capabilities.

Maybe there are some people who are looking at Twitter a little bit less, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Quora is a net new add to the sphere, and it has become extremely relevant.

BR: What does Quora need to do to continue their momentum and adoption rate?

LG: There are people who are already upset that more people have found the site. Where there could be a real concern is if popular people come over from other networks, like Facebook or Twitter, and start to overwhelm the service by producing noise without adding value. If you are extremely popular, your answers may get more votes simply because people already know you instead of the content you provide, and the quality of the service goes down.

If Quora can continue to maintain their authenticity and maintain answers that are correct and intriguing, then that will be something indeed.

BR: As a marketer, what should I be doing on Quora?

LG: Listen. Like Twitter, you want to be listening to the topics which pertain to your brand, and your brand name especially. You need to be unafraid to answer questions about your brand.

You need to be able to talk directly to those users and provide answers to the best of your ability. Authenticity wins the day.

BR: Quick pitch: With so many networks out there and so little time, why I should be more active on Quora?

LG: If you want to find quality answers to tough questions, or you’re really intrigued to find out how something took place, there really is no better place than Quora right now. There is no other network where you are going to find paragraph after paragraph about how much money AOL spent on CD’s back in the 90’s, or where you can find out from the founders of the companies that you work with why it is they made the decisions that they did.

Today, Twitter is still limited to 140 characters; Facebook posts are limited to 420, and to a social graph that you have already selected. With Quora, anybody in the world can see your answers because it is already public.