When Charlie Cheever was first promoting Quora, he claimed that the site aimed to be “a civil place on the Internet where people can interact” and that this sense of community was key to Quora’s success. A few months later, as Quora continues to expand, is Quora living up to its “community” reputation?
Well, it’s certainly growing in size, steadily adding users to its base; however, does a larger network necessarily equal a strong community? In a post on the site last week, a new Quora user wrote a detailed account of her experience on Quora titled “Confessions of a Quora Newbie”. In it, she addresses many issues at length – from the role of editors on the site to the role of humour in questions and answers – but most of the account boils down to one issue: that she’s found it difficult to integrate and feel respected in Quora’s question and answer community: “The onslaught of new users has stirred resentment among some of Quora’s early adopters and has fuelled debate surrounding community identity, standards and guidelines. Some new users are being bullied or intimidated into silence, or simply shown the door. Those who are encouraged to stay are also encouraged to keep their activity to a minimum.”
The lengthy post addresses several issues the author has about Quora and while Quora enthusiasts and insiders might immediately balk at the accusations thrown in Quora’s direction, the post asks some important questions. And, being that 45 users have upvoted the post – and many more have commented in the thread below – it seems the opinions aren’t being expressed in isolation. While the post hurls many accusations in Quora’s direction, they can, mostly, be summarized by one key issue: community.
Quora’s a social network, but there’s a big difference between a network and a community. In social media terms, a network boils down to access. A network is broad, comprised of the people you have access to online. A community, however, is more complicated because it’s more than having followers or friends, it’s having a feeling, belonging. In Quora’s a case, belonging is a particularly precarious issue because on the one hand, Quora’s an expanding start up; it wants users. On the other hand, however, Quora is building its brand around “quality”. Cheever stated, “Our No. 1 thing is knowledge that people trust. Being a resource trumps making people feel good about themselves.”Â So, how does Quora meet both demands at once?
The short answer is, Quora is still figuring it out. As a start up, this is normal; however, if community is not already high priority on Quora’s to do list, it should be. Because while Quora tweaks their editing system, the community is defining itself. One of the most pertinent points the post makes is the following: “Quora has attracted accomplished and educated people in professions and pursuits outside of social media – such as screenwriting, literature, medicine, law, even dairy farming – but the majority of questions and answers still revolve around technology.”
There is more than a grain of salt in the assertion that Quora’s highest profile users are technology and social media based, and if Quora wishes to grow to cover a wider range of topics not only will it have to make users from other areas feel welcome, it will also have to manage smaller “subject” communities within the large Quora community.
So, maybe the question Quora insiders should be posting is: “Can a question an answer site based on quality be both inclusive and exclusive at the same time?” And, if it can’t, how can it still create a sense of community?