The Quora Crisis: How Long Can the Center Hold?

The buzz surrounding Charlie Cheever’s abrupt departure from Quora and the successive public relations blunders of his former colleagues has grabbed the attention of Twitter, tech blogs and Quora users themselves. The criticism of Quora that dominates these expressions seems to have unmasked an unpleasant reality largely unspoken in the Quora community.

The buzz surrounding Charlie Cheever’s abrupt departure from Quora and the successive public relations blunders of his former colleagues has grabbed the attention of Twitter, tech blogs and Quora users themselves. The criticism of Quora that dominates these expressions seems to have unmasked an unpleasant reality largely unspoken in the Quora community.

For reasons that seem unfathomable, Quora has resorted to public relations tactics that have consistently failed— media blackouts and Nixonian stonewalling—while insiders insist that it’s simply “nobody’s business.” According to one source, a company spokesperson from Quora told Gigaom that Quora “would not be providing any further information on the matter.” On September 11th, Techcrunch said, “We’ll be updating as we hear more.” We are still waiting.

In the meantime, an image of Cheever being burned at the stake is making its way around the Internet, and inside Quora some users are answering, “What’s the most fantastic fanfiction you can come up with as to why Charlie Cheever is leaving Quora?” Charlie Cheever Status topic questions are mounting, and the Quora Community topic is getting questions about a possible buyout.

Several people have observed the obvious fact that the timing of Adam D’Angelo’s announcement on September 11th was in poor taste. That has led to speculation among users that the decision came swiftly and without warning. As of today, the question, “Which other Quora employees are leaving because of Charlie Cheever’s departure?,” has been answered just once: “Charlie Cheever.”

Additionally, users are wondering, “How is Quora enforcing silence on Charlie Cheever’s departure?” The top answer here is written by a user who prefaces with, “I don’t work at Quora,” and includes the following:

I suspect that the standard non-disclosure of private company information that’s in most contracts covers this. What’s more, a Quora employee will be aware that the Anon function is hardly going to protect them in this case.

In response, a Quora admin comments, “I am convinced that Quora would not break the absolute privacy of the anon identity to discover a leak among its employees.” Quora admins are privy to the real identity of anonymous users; this is but one reason why an employee might not risk leaking information on the site.

In another Quora question, “How is Charlie Cheever’s exit going to affect Quora as a product and its users?,” the only answer is by an anon user who writes:

Charlie has asked 50% more questions than Adam, answered twice as many questions as Adam, follows twice as many topics, follows six times as many people, and has three times as many boards.

Charlie is simply a more engaged and active user of Quora as it is today, and has a better handle on the site’s user base. Charlie’s departure is a blow, perhaps a death-blow, against the site that we know and love today, and is a harbinger of future change at Quora, whether that’s a departure from the current mission or a full-fledged self-immolation like a sale to Yahoo.

Many Quorans are rattled by Charlie’s departure, but have nowhere to turn for answers. Meanwhile, the core remains in denial or purposely silent. Charlie made contributions to the site on a near daily basis. But since the 11th of September, Charlie’s profile has been inactive. At least a few users don’t expect to hear from him again.

Despite the upheaval, vapid questions such as these are making the rounds on Quora this week: “Who are the most charming Quora users?” Indeed, it seems Quora narcissism has overtaken tech as the most asked question topic in recent months. Following Quora topics often means scrolling through a stream of questions such as, “How would you complete this joke: ‘A Quoran walks into a bar…?’” Most insiders have their own topic categories.