Quora bills itself as nothing less than "your best source of knowledge" -- not your dad, not your librarian, not Wikipedia. The company, spawned by two righteous Facebook alumni (one since ousted), has raised tens of millions from investors who think it can back this claim up. But a little poking around shows Quora's got a lot of learning to do -- today it's the Tumblr of opinions.
Quora wants to be a website that changes the entire planet ("Quora's mission is to share and grow the world's knowledge") -- the kind of digital hubris you inherit after being an early employee at Facebook, of course. The founders' shimmer with ambition, truly convinced that they will forever and fundamentally change the entire way human knowledge is distributed. They are mixing the Kool-Aid itself -- and despite plenty of scepticism, it seems to be working. By virtue of their pedigree, Quora's founders fantastical claims of Gutenberg-level revolution were taken at face value and rewarded with a mammoth amount of money from big time investors. In a recent, perfectly noble startup promo video, the Quora team speaks of its hopes and successes over images of the Statue of Liberty, the Wright Brothers, and God himself. Remember, these are ex-Facebook staffers we're talking about.
But they also casually mention that their traffic has exploded by a factor of three, which is no small feat -- particularly given that a lot of the "knowledge" on Quora makes the site look like Yahoo Answers spent a semester at Vassar, not some online replacement for the Library of Alexandria.
To begin, let's use the "Black People" Internet Test, wherein the phrase "black people" is searched on a given online community. High results usually indicate a simple, ignorant user base -- the kind of internet morons who tend to make sweeping generalizations that begin with the words "black people."
Quora, despite all of its esoteric overtones, scores quite high:
Not all of these queries are thoroughly answered, or answered at all, and they certainly don't mean that Quora is some hive of rednecks. But they're only a small slice of decidedly lowbrow, vulgar, offensive searches for "knowledge." Just try typing "jews."
We raised several thousand eyebrows at Henry Blodget for questions like these, so why give Quora a pass? What if we delve into sexuality? Not good.
Also not good:
How do you reconcile the search for perfected human knowledge with the question "Is there anything good about women?" What does it say that most of Quora's "thoughtful" answers are symptoms of obsessive Silicon Valley cultishness, not wisdom? There's plenty more wacky, off-putting inquiry where the above came from -- for every delicious and genuinely informative thread about the International Space Station, there are dozens peddling of banal Call of Duty chats or summer camp bonfire sex chats.
Clearly Quora has a quality problem -- there's an entire sub-community on the site dedicated to talking about how trashy it is. It's certainly a problem the site is aware of: remaining co-founder Adam D'Angelo admitted to GigaOm that "[keeping] the noise level down is going to be focus for us." With the creation of its fantastic -- and fantastically brief -- weekly email digest, Quora proves that it has some gems. Maybe even enough gems to justify a business. But there's a reason you can't shout in the library -- noise is everything, and Quora is rattling with crude, alienating noise. Standing between where we are now and some remote speck that resembles anything near a (rumored) half-billion valuation is a landfill's worth of junk -- the academic equivalent of Tumblr's rape and anorexia problem. How will the Facebook prince clean it all out? Don't bother asking Quora.
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