The Quor-gasm shakes the social web

A few weeks ago, we had a great discussion on {grow} about the “Quor-gasm:” the many problems with Quora.  The main point of the post was that despite the enormous buzz about the next “big thing” in social media, there were chronic problems:

  • Quora is primed to be gamed into oblivion by flacks and SEO gamesters
  • Meaningful contributions are edited or “collapsed” by the Quora gestapo
  • The platform floods participants with annoying notices and requests.
  • The long-format is far too time-consuming for most people.

I knew this blog post was swimming against an ocean of popular sentiment, but here’s what amazed me — almost unanimously, the {grow} community agreed with my perspective!

Now, this is definitely NOT a forum of sycophants. You keep me honest and frequently disagree in a meaningful way so I was really shocked by this … if Quora was such a hit, why did so many people hate it?  I began to think — maybe all of the folks on the comment section were right, and the blogging elite like Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble were wrong.

Turns out the {grow} community was definitely a harbinger of a growing Quora backlash.  In a period of just two weeks, the buzz on Quora is collapsing, precisely for the reasons the community explored and debated.

TechCrunch reported on Quora bitchmemes that were flooding the social web over the past two weeks.  Dozens of anti-Quora posts have popped up and of course there was a huge thread on Quora about it.

Yesterday, influential New York Times tech blogger David Pogue trashed Quora as a confusing, annoying, unusable mess.

But over the weekend, the ultimate backflip occurred.  Robert Scoble, the original catalyst for the mighty Quora buzz wrote a post entitled, Why I was wrong about Quora as a blogging service …

He essentially apologizes for his mis-calculation and over-statement of the benefits of the platform, as it crumbles under a host of problems.

Since I wrote the post, Quora’s challenges have become even worse. The service is filled with set-up questions where companies answer their own submissions, like “why is ABC the leading company for email marketing management?” In turn, the editing by Quora has become more severe and the annoying notifications have multiplied like social media self-help gurus.

I wanted to post this follow-up to say, Hey guys — GOOD JOB!  I think the discussion on {grow} proved to be a leading edge of popular sentiment on this topic.  Really proud of the guts, vision and intellect of this community.

Can Quora recover?  Can they hire enough people to sort through the spam, especially when they are burning through start-up cash?  It’s going to take some immediate and radical surgery. Perhaps a system of qualified or “authorized users” who get kicked out if they spam? No easy answers.

What do you think?  Can anything save Quora or is it going to collapse into a niche?

All posts

  • The reason Quora got press the way it did and generated so much good will is two fold.

    First, Quora is Britney Spears.
    Nope, Spears doesnt have good music nor is she the prettiest girl at the ball. Shes not even the first to do what she does. But theres a huge backing of a marketing machine behind her. Once the ground swell has started and the beach head has been established, the big mo (momentum that is) carries you pretty far the rest of the way until you encounter the game changer.

    For Spears, this was Kevin Fetherline. For Quora this was Mark Schaefer lol

    Second. What a bunch of lemmings this social web has turned out to be. Just because some dude proclaimed it “the next big thing” everyone accepted it and went along to dive off the cliff.

    This is a problem with “experts”. We think they know shit. But they are no better equipped to guess what the next big thing is going to be than a coin flip. Black Swan ya’ll 🙂

    Also, Robert Scoble has had inner motives that drove him to make both the original statement and the “retraction”. And these motives are not accesible to us and perhaps they are not accesible to even Robert Scoble. I do know one thing. Whatever his motives were, they were not on the page.

  • I have to take issue with the SEO gamesters point 😉 Quora is just as much of a waste of time as Yahoo! Answers or anything else like that when it comes to SEO because there’s no way to separate the wheat from the chaff, great answers from the crappy, etc, etc, etc. Plus, I doubt that there have been an abundance of links directing to specific answers that then have links directing out to various sites managed by SEO gamesters 😉

    Anyhoo, even if I’m wrong, Quora is interesting to me, but definitely not the next big, and as long as more people flood it with ridiculously poorly written and thought out answers, I’m probably not likely to spend a lot of time there. Now, if they took their idea of following certain topics (which Reddit, Digg, and other sites have) and combined it with Reddit’s, Digg’s, and other sites’ ability to bring the “hot” posts, the “new” posts, the most popular, and so on to the top depending on how you wanted to filter, that would make it immensely more valuable to me.

  • I keep meaning to write my own post about Quora – whether or not it’s worth jumping into, but the more I read about it, the more the post is turning into a case study of a startup failing than a interesting and engaging platform.

    When I jump into Quora, I ask myself every single time: What is the point of this?

    That’s the problem I think most people have. There’s no point – there’s the lure of SEO that will easily be gobbled up by content farms and corporate houses, so that become’s moot. There’s the lure of looking smart by helping people, but you’ll be voted out of an answer if you’re not one of the above.

    Those are a copule of things.

    Can Quora survive? Sure. Matter of fact, I think they can learn a ton from the past eight weeks or so. The question is will they learn? If not, they’re doomed.

  • This is sort of like the “best time to send email” effect.

    The steps:

    1. A secret is announced (“Tuesday at 11AM is the best time to send email” or “Hey, this Quora thing is amazing. It’s only high quality people answering questions honestly. You should check it out, it’s amazing”)

    2. Everyone tries the secret (“I’m going to send my email at Tuesday at 11AM” or “I’m going to go to Quora and set up a profile and follow everyone it suggests to me and answer questions that I think I sort of have an idea kind of about the real answer so I’ll give it a go, yeah why not”)

    3. The secret is ruined (“Reader: Damn, I get a ton of email at 11AM on Tuesdays, I now sort of just mass delete it all – too much stuff there to go through” or “Damn, Quora seems to be filled with a ton of people who aren’t quite qualified to answer these questions, and they are asking sort of … dumb or self-serving questions … and those original smart people seem to be long gone. This is kind of a waste of time and it’s not working for me”)

    Not perfect, but close enough. It happens a lot, not just on the web, but in direct mail, TV advertising, the music industry, and restaurant industry. The “me too” effect leaves us with a lot of echoes and ultimately, a lot of noise and not a lot of value.

  • Too many social media and technology types only care about finding the “next” big thing instead of enjoying the tools that we already have. And, there is a bias AGAINST sites that are popular with the average user.

    I can’t think of a better example than Facebook. Tons and tons of people are using Facebook to actually socialize with friends. But, the social media and technology crowd act like we need something else.

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that innovation isn’t great, but the over hype is exhausting and all too common.

  • I agree with you here. One of the most common questions i get is “What is the next Facebook? My answer? There isn’t going to be one, at least for a long time (full answer to that here: )

    Meanwhile, Facebook is going to be a target for critics because of its market dominance. Thanks for your comment!

  • Oh my gosh that is a brilliant analogy Andrew. Love this. Thanks!

  • Paul, this would be an amazing case study! My own perception is that they didn’t think through the implications of success and were unprepared for the onslaught. I do a lot of mentoring to small businesses and start-ups and this is a VERY common problem — they don’t think past the initial idea. Can you you scale quickly? What happens if a major player steals your idea? Do you have money to market properly to dominate a niche?

    I would love to see this. Maybe even consider a guest post around these parts?

  • Maybe SEO gamesters was not a precise term : ) But the fact is that people are overwhelming the system for promotion, links and PR and that is cluttering the thing up to the point where it is difficult to navigate. They need a Wikipedia model of a self-regulating community. They kind of have that but probably need approved and registered users or something.

  • You had me rolling on this one Dino. Very funny commentary. In general I like Robert’s mind a lot but agree that there is this shocking lemming-like attitude on the social web. Certainly critical thinking is not a hallmark of this institution. Maybe there is something to these klout scores after all. If you have a lot of followers you can tell people what to do. Scary.

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  • Good post Mark…actually both of them. I have to admit that I was a bit enamored with quora when I first heard about it and looked at it. There were some good topics in there and some even better discussions around them. Then all of a sudden it was flooded with spam, the topic structure crumbled when no one bothered to look up what was there and just started making their own, and yes the notifications are insane.

    I do love Andrew’s analogy as well. But is there any way that something good can remain useful once it becomes popular? Is there any way something good and useful can be kept a secret?

  • It feels a little like “wining the lottery” type of behavior…

    Consider a guest post? I would be thrilled! We’ll have to chat offline soon!

  • It’s my nature to break things down into simple terms that I can understand. Lots of cave drawings on my walls at home.

  • Adjf


  • You are a gifted writer!

  • Great insights Mark!

    A few months ago (2 maybe?) when someone asked me: ‘What do you think of Quora?’ I tried it, saw it was very forumesque+subjective & said not sure it was something for me.

    When a platform can be broken to fit to the will of a few people, there is a gaping hole in it’s model. That’s the ‘beauty’ of Wikipedia. I can add what I’d like but it has to be relevant. It’s not voted up or down by the community, but checked by people who have similar backgrounds & interests to keep checks & balances.

    If a small band of people can vote down a specific topic indiscriminately, you’ve got a big problem with the basic idea of what you’re trying to do if it what you’re providing is supposed to be objective-ish. Maybe it’s the -ish part that’s going to kill Quora. It’s either Objective or not. can’t have a lot of fudge room.

  • Send me an email and we’ll something up friend. It’s a community after all and I am privileged to feature strong thought-leaders like you Paul.

  • My experience mirrors yours Traci. I loved the quiet, intellectual sharing on Quora, which lasted about two weeks. So yes, there is value to the concept but just not on this scale. There is a business model in there somewhere and certainly some valuable lessons for all Internet entrepreneurs.

    I’m so appreciative that you took the time to add your thoughts today Traci!

  • “When a platform can be broken to fit to the will of a few people, there is a gaping hole in it’s model.”

    That is such a keen insight at the core of this development, Chase. Really instructive and helpful. Thank you!

  • It’s going to take a lot for Quora to pull out of this mess. If they can at all.

    I knew the fun was over when I got “followed” by a girl who was following 2,000+ people and had 30 followers… and no comments… The bots have found us again. Time to move on.

  • public temporary disenchantment by one popular power blogger is by no means the deathknell to the platform. I think it remains a fantastic resource despite it’s documented shortcomings most of which will get fixed. Unlike Wave which suffered a total flop after panicked excitement to get onboard, Quora has largely delivered by virtue of its pooled knowledge and generous participation. Go lateral on subjects outside of your day to day profession and you might find some mental joy in there. So there’s spam? As long as there are humans there will be spam and contentious behaviour.

  • I blame TechCrunch for my hatred of Quora. I don’t use it, and never will, mostly because of TC’s endless daily selling of their souls for Quora invites. It makes me angry to even read the word. TC has been going downhill for a while, though (cough MG cough).

  • What can I say, you’ve helped me grow …

  • Great opposing view Paul. Thanks!

  • Ouch. There’s the answer huh? A bot-free zone. Yes, that would be NICE!

  • I scan TechCrunch but have not picked up on that theme. Interesting take on it. Thanks.

  • I’ve logged in a couple of times, I see how the platform has some value, but it’s already deteriorating and being gamed as this post and other commenters have pointed out. Moreover, this thread was one of the first I encountered, and it turned me off completely. Do I need this sort of priggish nonsense in my life? No, I do not.

    Then there’s the notification bombardment and the automatic following of everyone in my network. That is just bush league.

  • This is a brilliant analogy, by the way. Well done.

  • I am automatically going to love any comment containing the word “priggish.”

    The really upsetting thing about this is that all of these detractors you mention should have come out in the beta. Maybe not the level of spam, but gosh, you could have predicted that and put a counter-measure in place, right? It was an idea without a plan.

    Thanks for this insightful contribution Derek!

  • I am automatically going to love any comment containing the word “priggish.”The really upsetting thing about this is that all of these detractors you mention should have come out in the beta. Maybe not the level of spam, but gosh, you could have predicted that and put a counter-measure in place, right? It was an idea without a plan.Thanks for this insightful contribution Derek!

  • Does this remind anyone of LinkedIn Answers?

  • Anonymous

    Mark this is awesome. Quora had its moment in the sun where certain agencies and luminaries were pimping it harder than Heidi Fliess. They may have exploded more prematurely than some of her cleints as well.

    At the end of the day Quora may be useful, but people forget that it is a “me too” coming into the market. There are plenty of services available now from Google, Microsoft, Yelp, GetSatisfaction, etc. As they continue to grow they may offer an enterprise edition, but then again maybe they will just fizzle out.

    We as a whole need to get over the shiny factor. Folks forget that Quora was around for a year before Scoble’s mancrush article. So that should be taken with a grain of salt. The platform was just another place for folks to flex that they were an expert on something instead of doing work.

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  • Couldn’t agree more! I like the sites we are using now and often tire of hearing about the ‘next big thing’ and ‘keeping up.’ The tech crowd deems it ‘uncool’ once everyone is on it and that’s so tiring. I agree that there is too much hype.

    I have asked one question on Quora and received the response I desired but don’t log in much simply because it is not user-friendly. It is too much clutter for me to weed through to find something I’m actually interested in knowing. I hope it gets cleaned up because it may actually become useful but until then, it’s too much trouble.

  • This was a niche product to begin with. I was on it well before the blow up and it was all techy Silicon Valley folks. Once it went outside that sphere even BEFORE being scobled it became diluted.
    What has happened was inevitable without keeping it within a niche… a moderated forum is nothing more than that… QUORA was only interesting at first because it had real bigwigs giving big answers…

  • When I first heard about Twitter, I rolled my eyes and said, “Give me a break”…and then a few months later I was hooked. So I decided I would give Quora a chance before forming an opinion.

    Except I never went back after the first time I went. I just didn’t care. I get new followers everyday and I think “okay I’ll go back…” and I haven’t. I’m glad some people have found it useful, but even when I’ve looked through questions, my eyes just sort of glazed over at the responses.

  • Totally agree. The ability to self-police better would really help.

    Questions like “Why is Company XYZ so damn good at Interactive Marketing?” with responses like “I’m the CEO, and it’s funny you should ask. Blah blah blah.” really grind my gears. YOU wrote the freaking question about your own company and then answered it! I know because you were the only person “following” the question when I looked at it. Bah! Go broadcast tweet if you need something to do!

    Great, Mark. Now, you’ve got me all worked up over Quora. 😛

  • Is this the point at which we do the I-told-you-so dance? Seriously, I think that Quora is the right idea, hence the initial hype, but the wrong implementation. How to fix? I really don’t know. Quora is killing itself in the UI area. Nav is difficult at best, and finding a specific user to follow is next to impossible, not to mention it can take days or weeks to receive an email about an update to your question or a question you are following. There is nothing here that Yahoo Answers hasn’t already been doing better, trolls and all 🙂

    Then again, like I’ve said before, it has been a great resource to find great tweeps to follow on Twitter.

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