Que es Quora?

I try to keep my eye out for new websites and my ear to the ground. However, not all new websites catch my attention. It’s impossible given the cambrian like explosion of new blogs, social websites, and online innovation.

What I look at are websites that are interesting to me or have an interesting/unique concept. Another important factor are the people behind the website.

Now, Quora was interesting because the team is made up of ex-facebookers. Not just ordinary employees at Facebook but “Adam D’Angelo, who was previously CTO and VP of engineering at Facebook, and Charlie Cheever, who led Facebook Connect and Facebook Platform”.

So I signed up to Quora a while back, and one day a beta invite popped up in my inbox.

Beta invites are cool because they are not open to the general public and you need to sign up and register your interest. Websites are in beta for a number of reasons, one of these is that they are still in development and might not be able to handle the load if it was open to the public. Having a beta limits the number of users and allows them to get feedback and develop iterations rapidly. The other thing is that it generates a level of excitement in tech geeks who think they have exclusive access (see @inspiredworlds).

Que es Quora? (What is Quora?)

According to the website:

“Quora is 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 closest analogy I can come up with is Yahoo Answers. Quora aims to be the best place to find answers or knowledge about a topic. They do this by having the community ask questions, and having the community answer it. Sounds like any forum right ala stackoverflow, or a wikipedia or google’s attempt at knol.

A particular feature is that certain people have expertise in an area, so their answer should be given more weight. The analogy Quora likes to use is if Michael Jordan answers a question about basketball, its not the same if you or I answer the question (though I do claim to know a lot about bball!). Clearly, an expert that answers a question knows a lot more about the topic.

In addition, the community can vote up the answer similar to a forum. The community can also edit the question, summarize answers, categorize, etc…similar to wikipedia. Quora tries to use people with real profiles and real names.

Here is an example below of a question about Firefox’s growth:

firefox

Right now, there a lot of interesting questions and insightful answers being posed like the above pic. Mostly, they have a tech skew because these are generally the first adopters of these kind of websites. The quality of the answers and the experts answering them are also really good. You can see in the example above, one of the original co-founders of Firefox answered, then the current CEO, and a bunch of people that use to work there or developers that have worked with it.

So much of the web is uncategorised. When you search in google, you are presented with web pages that best match your keywords. It might not actually ANSWER your question or search intent. What Quora is trying to do is create some sense of order in the web by having the community organise it, and giving priority to experts. The community also help shapes the answers by giving feedback.

Here is an example of a question I answered on Yammer. I corrected the person below who answered Blellow as a competitor. Yes, most people would see it as a competitor but its actually a different service.

quora v2

One of the issues that I have is that right now there are a lot of really good answers from credible people at lot of tech companies. What will happen when Quora scales? When the questions drift away from tech, will the quality of questions and answers decline? Will it become like Yahoo Answers?

Honestly, I find Yahoo answers a bit of a hit and miss. It comes up often in google searches, but there are a lot of crass comments as well useless junk in there. Much will depend on the quality and willingness of Quora’s community to curate and moderate the content.

You can find a lot of interesting and insightful comments all over the web. Its buried in blogs, forums, reviews, wikis. A major problem is that you don’t know how authoritative or useful that information is. I mean, you can’t believe everything you read on the web right? You don’t know who posted that information or who answered a question, what their experience is with the subject matter. Maybe Quora will help bring some categorisation + order + expertise into topics.

As of this moment, this website is best described as Yahoo Answers meets Wikipedia, with a dash of facebook engineering =)

I’m out like beta invites,

Matthew Ho.

Blogs as a source of authority – ReadWriteWeb’s v Wikipedia

Occassionally I read the website “ReadWriteWeb“. It’s a blog about online/digital media. They recently discovered that they were blacklisted by Wikipedia after a contributor tried to link them as a source. The editor Richard MacManus made his submission via the usual process, by submitting his case on Media Wiki talk pages and the debate was fleshed out. He also submitted his case on his blog, getting even more attention since it is a top 20 blog. The debate from Wikipedia admins, contributors, the ensuing comments on his blog, as well as the decision to remove has all been interesting.

This was the comment I left on his blog:

“I think this is a fascinating article and case study on why ReadWriteWeb was blacklisted on Wikpedia. I can see why they blacklisted you, but that should have been against you personally not the blog for some comments that you made 3 years ago.

I read your blog occassionally, because it was starting to get referenced and digg’d – so obviously the wider community thinks it is a good source of web 2.0 info. the fact that your syndicated by NYT only adds to the arguement that you should be removed, and rightfully that has happened.

I’m still curious to the general debate of whether blogs can be a seen as a credible source of information, not only for wikipedia but also for reference purposes (academic and in general). what about blogs outside the top 20?”

Background

By way of background ReadWriteWeb’s editor must have done something dodgy whether inadvertently or on purpose, by adding his website multiple times as a source of reference. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it came to the attention of the editors and the was a bit of war of words and the editor used some not so nice words. This happened three years ago. We all know that even one year in the internet industry is like 7 years in the real world (Sidenote: I’m approaching one year in the industry). The pace of change and practices change quite rapidly. As one of my colleagues, Aaron noted, the business models change.

ReadWriteWeb is clearly a well known source of web 2.0 info. It is ranked #17 out of all blogs on the internet for readership with 275,000 RSS subscribers. It has content syndication with the New York Times – they use it in their tech blogs for additional content. It was the only blog in the top 20 blacklisted. The majority of those blogs even have their own wikipedia page! If it wasn’t for the personal actions of the editor and the original comments of Hu12 admin stating that blogs as a source are not verifiable/reliable/credible because they are self published, this would have never seen the light of day.

Which really brings me to a related issue:

Can blogs be citied as as source of authority, whether in wikipedia or in general?

I want to repost some of the comments I found on the Wiki spam page, arguing the case for submission. More importantly it is their views on blogs as a source of authority which I want to highlight. As a former law grad raised on evidence law, legal referencing and even simple academic guidelines, I find it very fascinating.

Why RWW was originally rejected

Comment by Hu12:

* Blogs, and Blog sites are Link normally to be avoided
* ReadWriteWeb Fails Wikipedia’s core content policies:
* ”Verifiability”
o ” Questionable_sources”
o “Verifiable Reliable Sources”
o ”Self-published sources (online and paper)”
* ”Reliable sources”
o ”Self-published sources”

1. Arguement for removal:

“I am a regular reader of RWW and I believe that it qualifies as a legitimate osurce for news and information. They do not merely recycle press releases but actually engage directly as journalists, talking directly to technology leaders and performing original reporting. The question of whether it is a “blog” and therefore does not merit inclusion is a red herring as the very definition of “blog” is vague (chronologically ordered website? the same could be said of the New York Times). Really a “blog” is just a content management software package that runs underneath a website but does not dictate what the site’s purpose is. Granted a tech blog hosted on blogspot.com or wordpress.com (free hosts) is probably on the far side of the line dividing legitimate sources of information, but RWW is far from that and should not be lumped into that category. I dont feel that th etraffic/readership issues are salient, but as far as credibility goes, RWW enjoys the same press status as print magazines, and should be treated in teh same manner. I have no affiliation with RWW whatsoever, though I do maintain several blogs of my own and write for BeliefNet.

Regards, Aziz Poonawalla

2. Arguement for removal:

Respectfully, I’m floored that this discussion is taking place at all in 2009. There are published tabloids and even minor newspapers with less credibility that ReadWriteWeb. This distinction between ‘blogs’ and ‘newspapers’ is worse than archaic; it fundamentally dismisses the immense disruption in the media industry. Blogs like that are more transparent and verifiable than many papers by virtue of their readership and topicality. And, frankly, there’s an odd double standard at play. Mashable, TechCrunch and GigaOm all have their own entries in Wikipedia and cover similar beats. Moreover, at least in this editor’s opinion, Marshall and Richard’s credibility on certain topics has proven to be more viable than the posts on at least one of those sites. I strongly urge the Wikipedia community to remove this blacklisting and reconsider its policy around blogs. It made sense in 2004. In 2009, there are now major blogs at the New Yorker, the Atlantic and the New York Times. Because the form is a reverse chronologically ordered list of entries, does it suddenly become an unreliable tabloid? I think not. Vetting should be based upon more than that, particularly the expertise and proven track record of the writer. That expert vetting is important to both Britannica and Wikipedia going forward. I hope you all get it right here.

-Alexander B. Howard

My thoughts

I’m going to talk about the topic in general, not specifically readwriteweb. I think the editor blew it a bit out of proportion but I’m glad he did because he highlighted a very good issue that had attracted a lot of intelligent debate.

Blog when they first started becoming developed were self published and generally, were not really edited for quality. However, nowadays, many newspapers, companies, communities, and groups are using blogs. They are becoming very professional in nature, similar to newspapers and books. Within their genre, they can be highly authoratative. In some cases, blogs have the same status in the media as newspapers and books. If the readership, editorial quality, sources, reputation and most importantly their content is credible, they why can’t they be referenced? If the New York Times can be referenced, why can’t their NYT blog be referenced? It usually written by the same writers and probably goes through the same level of editorial review as regular print articles. If the blog writer does their research, links to their sources and does proper journalistic investigation, how is that any less credible?

Of course not all blogs are like this. There is a lot of rubbish out there too (but then so are some books!). To dismiss blogs as inclusion in wikipedia because they are self published it is a futile argument, since wikipedia itself is self published. Can the wider community use blogs as a reference for example a student writing an assignment? Just like other sources, it should go through a rigurous criteria however, it would be slightly different since it is an online source. The fact is print and newspaper readership is dying out, and online has become a new source of information. A lot of news and information can come from blogs – it has been embraced by the public and is gaining ground as a source of info.

Look at wikipedia itself. The first time I heard of it was when my manager send me a link about wooden pylon term a client of ours was using. This was 4 years ago, when wikipedia was still in its infancy. Now, wikipedia is seen as just as credible as Encylopedia Britannica. They have tests and it matches up as a source of credible information. Encyclopedia Britannica itself is moving to a wikipedia type model, where users can submit content and there are professional staff editing the content. Whether they can keep up is another question!

You have to examine each blog on its own merit – not all blogs can be referenced. I will write some more thoughts about this later as I have to head off but I leave you with the wikipedia policy on verifiability and the reason why Read Write Web was removed:

1. The use of links to ReadWriteWeb is not disruptive. If an individual editor is repeatedly adding spam links to it, have an administrator block that editor.
2. While ReadWriteWeb may or may not be reliable, non-reliability on its part would not, in and of itself, justify blacklisting the website.
3. ReadWriteWeb is well-known and publicly objects to the inclusion on the blacklist. The perception of Wikipedia as unfairly blocking the use of links to the website is not helpful to Wikipedia, whether or not the blacklisting is otherwise justified.
4. While the participation may be (and is probably) skewed as a result of ReadWriteWeb’s public objection to the blacklisting, the great majority of commenters on the applicable discussion page support the removal of the entry from the blacklist. Since the removal is reversible, continued discussion can confirm whether my removal has general consensus. In the meantime, the removal seems less likely to cause problems.

I’m out like blogs as a source of authority,

Matt Ho.