(2010-12-10) Rao Quora Conversation Systems

Venkatesh Rao is a big fan of Quora. Quora might well become as fundamental to the Web as Google, Facebook or Twitter. Everybody asks and answers questions after all... To understand the Quora phenomenon, you have to think about the phenomenology of Q&A. Consider the different types we encounter in everyday life: (list of 20)... This fluidity of relative status in Q&A is what makes it a fundamental kind of messaging transaction. Status shifts strongly, but locally, during the process of asking and answering questions. Which makes sense, since status shifts generally occur in response to truly new information being injected, and Q&A models are optimized to draw new information in.

The one conversation model that was clearly not present in the BBS (Discussion Forum) world was Wiki-s. Wikis are, in my opinion, the only fundamentally new conversation model on the Internet that arose independently of the BBS/UseNet family tree... Q&A fundamentally needs a blend of wiki and BBS elements. And so far, with the exception of Google Wave, the two families have not intermarried effectively... There are two obvious elements to solving this problem: redirection and question editing. You should be able to redirect a new “Anyone know the capital of Alaska?” to an old “What’s the capital of Alaska?” and keep editing old questions to reflect the most frequent form/search phrase, thereby giving it its final canonical form. Any given question is actually what is technically known as a small world in the overall “question graph.” At the core of each question’s small world are basically interchangeable questions, with more peripheral members having subtly different emphases that make them true variants. Each question’s small world is connected to related questions via weak links.

I am leaning right now towards the conclusion that if they don’t make some basic changes, Quora will die, rather than go downmarket, through evaporative cooling (see 2010-11-08-SocialSoftwareCoolingLegibilityAndWarrensVsPlazas). One reason is that though the architecture is a warren architecture, one corner is heavily overpopulated (the techie/entrepreneurial crowd). Unfortunately, the theme that this crowd loves is, I believe, at its limit of “warrenizability.” You cannot subdivide the topics within it in more fine-grained ways, to sequester the crowds more finely. Every user’s Q&A interests have a resolution limit. I am interested in “lean startups.” I don’t want to further confine myself to “East Coast lean startups for consumer content businesses.” Topic-based (Interest Graph) warrenization is at its limit on Quora. Social Network-based warrenization is also at its limit (it’s just inherited from FaceBook and overloaded).

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