My profile says:
I love Quorans.
I loathe Quora Inc.
Baseb S. Bas has asked me why. I have no doubt that several other Quorans new to me have asked why too. Just not to me.
I say Quorans new to me, because if you’ve been reading me for a while, I’d think you’d have worked it out. Especially if you’ve stumbled on the content of this blog (which until now was posted on Opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr In Exile). But this gives me the opportunity to lay my thoughts about Quora Inc. out a little more systematically. And I trust judiciously.
I do not loathe Quora Inc., btw, because my One True Quora Master Scott Welch brainwashed me to. In fact, it was only after months of me hating on Quora that I reached out to Scott, and found to my surprise that I had day job business in common with him. Scott has certainly helped me crystallise my thoughts though.
I loathe Quora Inc. because I love Quorans. Whatever nebulous and hubristic notion D’Angelo and Cheever had in mind back in 2010, Quorans have not realised it. They’ve realised something better. They’ve realised a place where good writers, good scholars and experts, and good people can exchange thoughts and insights—and do so in more than a paragraph. They’ve realised a reincarnation of the best of the venerable Usenet. It’s an asset and a balm.
Quora Inc. kinda brought this into being, though it wasn’t their primary intent. The anecdote goes that if it was up to D’Angelo, there’d be no comments. Quora Inc. kinda sustains it, through the existence of BNBR—whatever I might think of its execution. But Quora Inc. is heading towards bringing it right back out of being.
There are two families of reasons why I loathe Quora Inc. Reasons at the surface of what Quora does, and reasons underlying what Quora does. They’re related: the lacks at the core drive the fumbles on the surface.
At the surface
Oh, Moderation. I have never gotten over the shock of the banning of Jimmy Liu: On strike in support of Jay Liu by Nick Nicholas on Opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr In Exile. That set me digging into the archives of the underbelly of Quora. And I’ve been implacable about it since.
There’s the superficial reaction of how someone you enjoy reading or interacting with is suddenly carted off by the Black Maria in the middle of the night, with you none the wiser. That’s why I’ve decided to set up Necrologue: so people are at least informed about moderator sanctions.
But sanction needs to be available to moderators, in order to put teeth behind their rules of conduct. It’s not that, so much, which I resent. It’s the lack of transparency, and it’s the lack of accountability. In fact, until reasonably recently, there was no explanation or justification given to sanctions at all. That lack of transparency leads to resentment and suspicion. That’s a grave Quora Inc. has dug for itself.
Quora, as Chrys Jordan has quite insightfully put it, is a Cryptocracy: Chrys Jordan’s answer to What if Quora were a country? If you don’t realise you’re in a cryptocracy, all is well, and the trains are running on time. Once you realise you’re in a cryptocracy, everything looks suspect to you.
Oh, the stupid, it hurts. I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to put it. UI changing capriciously from month to month. Heralded improvements to the user experience, that infuriate just about everyone, and get quietly rescinded a few months later. (The number of actual improvements in my user experience over the past 15 months is far less than 5.) Longstanding bugs with internet connectivity or navigation that are ignored for years. Notifications disappearing without a trace.
And don’t even get me started on Search.
The UI churn points to an underlying issue, of course. Feifei Wang has the most plausible account I’ve seen: Feifei Wang’s answer to What is your review of the new Quora Product Update which enables a focused reading page from your feed? (17.6.2016)
We have a blog dedicated to user feedback: Rage against Quora
We have a blog dedicated to ontology feedback: Topic Gnomery
We have any number of questions dedicated to soliciting user feedback on what Quora does.
We have lots and lots of improvised guides on onboarding new users.
We have crickets from Quora employees. With the exception of Tatiana Estévez, there’s rarely any response, and Tatiana herself responds only in extreme circumstances. We have no sense (and certainly no proof) that our feedback is valued, or even received.
There is a Facebook group for Top Writers, and a Facebook group for Top Writer User Feedback. Quora employees apparently say a bit more there. The existence of these invitation-only groups has thrown me into incandescent rage; but I have been assured by several people that no, nothing said on those groups gets taken on board either.
We are reminded that Quora is a business, not a cooperative and not an Athenian agora, and it will choose how to communicate. Well, sure. Except people now expect a Web 2.0 experience of their Web—including their sites. When Charlie Cheever was ousted from Quora, Quorans asked why, on Quora: What is Charlie Cheever’s status at Quora as of September 11th, 2012? When D’Angelo answered why, people weren’t happy with the corporate obfuscation, and Jon Mixon commented:
Does this really answer the question?
It does…if the question was “How does the press release for Charlie Cheever leaving Quora, read?”
Of course there are sound business reasons why you don’t air your dirty laundry in public. But people expect more now.
Michaelis Maus, resident nihilist gadfly and moustache-bearer, has often commented about how we are being exploited here for views and clicks, as unpaid content contributors—that we are ourselves the product, and don’t even realise it.
His critique is valid for social media: it’s what Instagram and Facebook are all about. I don’t find being commodified like that objectionable: everybody has their price, just make sure your price isn’t cheap. I don’t feel the criticism at all about Quora, though, because they’ve been so bungling about the social media and the commodification.
There’s some republishing of clickbait, though it’s usual suspects, and tends to be quite superficial—the stuff that made me dodge the Facebook Quora Feed and the Quora Digest. There’s high Google ranking. There’s the cult of the Top Writer Superstar—though I doubt that’s been actively cultivated by Quora Inc., and I don’t think the Top Writer award has actually done that much. I think the commodification is something of an afterthought in Quora HQ. In truth, if there’s any accusation I can level at HQ, at this latter-day, Through-The-Looking-Glass stage of Silicon Valley capitalism—it’s that they aren’t commodifying us enough.
At the core
Scott Welch has talked about these more, and he has the depth of industry savvy to be able to talk about these more; so I do defer to him. But these are the malaises that drive the annoyances that we see on the surface.
Lack of leadership
Who’s running the show? Is there a CTO? Is there a CFO? Why are all the high profile managers jumping ship? Does D’Angelo even exist, or is he a scripted bot? If he’s a scripted bot, can we at least improve the frequency of his posts?
Lack of vision
What problem is Quora solving? Is it an expert forum? Is it a social forum? Is it a knowledge repository, crowdsourcing Doug Lenat’s Cyc? Is it a training bed for AI bots? For intranet knowledge bases? Where do we writers fit in? Why are we here and not on StackExchange?
Lack of sustainability
It’s been six years of burning through venture capital; even by Silly-Con Valley standards, that’s been a while. Is there a plan for profitability? Is there a not-for-profit exit strategy? Is there a strategy at all? And will there be a Quora in five years’ time?
(Nick Nicholas’ answer to What will happen to Quorans if Quora shuts down and/or just stops in the future? Is it made to last forever? If not, what will happen to our answers? Is there anything that Quora can do to prevent this and save all of our work?)
These issues are not getting visibly fixed. And these, in the end, will unhouse us all.
And ultimately that’s why I loathe Quora. Because it’s given us a magnificent salon to hang out in—so long as you don’t annoy the bouncers, and you don’t relax and have too much fun. But it’s not meeting the mortgage instalments. And I’m not looking forward to the day when Quora is featured on Flip or Flop, as a Short sale.