How Is Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” Service Better Than Quora?

Wondering why Quora is gaining so much steam? It's not too complicated: there is a need on the web for a fast way to get answers from experts. Is Reddit's IAMA doing the same sort of thing, but better?

iamaWondering why Quora is gaining so much steam? It’s not too complicated: there is a need on the web for a fast way to get answers from experts. Part of the reason this hasn’t been solved yet is that almost every question service eventually folds under its own weight and becomes like Yahoo! Answers where people ask “How are babbys formed”? That said, Reddit has always prided itself on booting/downvoting and blocking non-contributing members, so its community is still smart. And so is its “ask me anything” section – or IAMA as it’s affectionately known by Redditors.

Let’s start by taking a look at Reddit’s question and answer service. On Saturday, Erik Martin (Reddit name hueypriest) posted on the Reddit blog that IAMA is growing much faster than the rest of the site itself. Powered by three IAMA posts that are now in the top ten of all time, the site is growing at an unprecedented pace and has surely blown past last year’s reported 8,000,000 monthly unique visitors. So what kinds of posts are driving this IAMA traffic? Exceptional ones.

Reddit is a community full of diverse and thoughtful individuals. The posts that drove the traffic were from Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy champion who recently battled IBM’s Watson supercomputer, Congressman Garamendi from Northern California and a tragic but ultimately enlightening discussion with Lucidending, a man who had 51 hours to live, and contemplated his end along with Redditors [I should advise that reading the Lucidending IAMA will likely give you pause. Read it when you have time.].

On a personal note, the substance and power of the Reddit community has touched on that juvenile dream we all had when we heard about the world wide web. Very often, there are charitable causes and good people who work together to try to accomplish positive goals, and the Reddit community helps itself along to get these things done. It’s inspiring and something to enjoy. The experts that show up seem to be doing so as their true selves, whereas other services, like Quora, focus on our professional identities.

So just how fast is the IAMA question service growing? When we look over at Reddit’s blog post, we see that the real growth started in February and has been growing ever since. A closer look shows that – as can be expected at Reddit – traffic isn’t constant. Reddit traffic spikes are based on individual posts that go absolutely viral through the community. Reddit thrives as its content does.

redditiama

Now let’s take a look at Quora. Looking at a recent post from Experian, we can see that 2011 has had the service experience a surge of momentum. The service nearly tripled in users in January and February.

Sm WMSQuora 02-05-11

Quora is a professional question and answer service, and it’s been a source of great information on the rapidly evolving technology world since its launch. We looked at 5 Reasons You Should Start Using Quora and haven’t looked back. It’s a great tool, but it’s full of niche content, mostly aimed at technology insiders.

That’s not to say Quora isn’t expanding. Quora has a whole series of concept pages for ideas like music, or death, where surprising experts from a variety of fields answer questions in particular ways. However — perhaps because of the navigation — Quora still makes it difficult to easily get one expert’s answers on a variety of questions. Also, most of the popular questions are still very much focused on technology and industry, as evidenced by the brilliant analytic ability displayed in the answers to these best questions about technology. The experts that live and answer questions in Quora are pretty much inaccessible to the public in any other centralized web service. When you want to know more about YouTube funding and revenue, I wager there’s no better option than to post a question at Quora.

Traffic-wise, while it’s difficult to compare, you could estimate that with Reddit’s reported 8,000,000 unique visitors and the popularity of IAMA, that their growth in the last little while has been substantial and represents a larger chunk than Quora. In any case, what we can see by examining the two questions services is that there is a massive user demand for Q&A. Quora tripled early in 2011 and Reddit’s uniques for the IAMA section seemed to have grown by over 10 times!

So, as you probably suspected, determining whether one service is “better” than another requires multiple dimensions of quantifiable analysis. While I believe this can be done, both the Quora and Reddit Q&A services are too early to truly determine which one has more merit. One thing I will say is that the power of a Q&A service is entirely dependent on its user base, and we’ll check back in 6 months to see how those user bases have evolved.