Why I’m Impressed with Quora – An Earthquake Story

by Matt on January 10, 2011

in Social Media

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Quora.com is the latest buzz in an industry that is all about buzz. Everyone’s talking about the Q&A site, including community and social media managers – who are always looking to strike oil in an emerging platform. I took a stab at it, and I’m impressed.

Which surprised me, because I don’t care about Q&A sites. Well, I didn’t.

Yahoo Answers is more fun to troll than it is to use. Formspring is very popular, thanks to its emphasis on blog and Twitter integration, but to me, it always looked like an ego stroker rather than an actual tool. Wiki Answers is just… a mess.

When I signed up for Quora, two things happened that immediately communicated what the site is about. This is the holy grail of design: for your users’ first experience with the product to tell them exactly why it’s useful.

Show, Don’t Tell

First up: when you log into Quora after making an account, the question promoted to the top of your home page is “How do I get started using Quora?”

The first question you see in Quora

This elegant introduction is the most valuable kind of tutorial. You learn how to use the product by using it, rather than through a separate “lesson,” video, or About page. The first question has everything Quora’s social mechanics are built on: following, voting, and suggesting.

Compare that to Wiki Answers, which overwhelms you with posts (my home page had the gem “How much formula 8 lb baby“), and thrusts the “ask a question” bar in your face with no explanation.

What is that? What’s the difference between “All Sources,” “Community Q&A,” and “Reference Topics?”

Assume nobody will ever read your “About” page, and that everyone will skip your tutorial. Show them, don’t tell them.

Then the ground shook

Ok, so I got how Quora worked. You could follow people. You could vote up answers. You could subscribe, filter and tag. But why should I care?

That’s when my desk neighbor turned to me and asked, “Hey, did you just feel an Earthquake?

I hadn’t – I’m a Texas boy, and would have jumped out the window at the first sign of the floor moving. (Perhaps not an advisable earthquake survival strategy.) I turned to Twitter, XKCD-style, and only saw tweets consisting of “Earthquake!!!” and “Woah, did anyone else feel that?” I turned to Facebook, and saw similar claims.

I refreshed Quora, and at the very top of my feed was the question: Was there an earthquake in the SF Bay Area the afternoon of January 7, 2011? The first answer had links to the official USGS earthquake tracking service, details on the location and severity, a Google Maps screenshot of the epicenters, and a collection of reports from Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, San Mateo and San Francisco.

Quora is significantly better than Facebook at predicting what questions interest me. At the time of the earthquake, Facebook’s suggested questions for me were “What’s a good place to take a sewing class in SF?”, “What are your favorite Restaurants in Redwood City?”, and “Why do have nipples?”

Maybe it was luck, but I’m impressed. Quora immediately demonstrated its value, and now I’m eagerly exploring other ways it can be useful.

On a completely unrelated note, feel free to follow me on Quora. I’m currently exploring the Community Management, Social Media and Video Gaming sections, and I’m sure I’ll venture into more.

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