Perspectives on the Insurgency #1: The Salon and the Neighbourhood Gang

As I noted in Why do you really loathe Quora?, I have been challenged about my attitudes to Quora vented here, and as to how I express them. My exchange with Abd Ul-Rahman Lomax (Why do you really loathe Quora?) was one such challenge, although our disagreement was not so much about content but tone. I meant it and mean it when I say I welcome and solicit challenges, and I have already forwarded Achilleas Vortselas: Moderation is silly because Quora isn’t real – or is it? here.

I have had an extensive exchange over recent days with Jennifer Edeburn , based on a rather long PM she sent me. (If it isn’t long, it isn’t Edeburn! 🙂 It’s been an exchange, but it has not been a response. It was a long PM, so we are chopping it up into four or five sections and posting it here, for public view.

Jennifer has been doing her homework, and has brought a keen analysis to what she is seeing going on. And she doesn’t like it. No, not what Quora is doing, although she has concerns there too. What the Insurgency is doing.

The Insurgency is inchoate and has no agenda, although we’re not taking to wearing Guy Fawkes masks. So I can’t speak for all of you who share annoyance, and express it in various ways. I speak for myself, even if I fancy I speak on behalf of you. I welcome the criticisms on behalf of myself, and for you. Because they are fair, and they represent a good chunk of our community too, and because progress is made through exchange of ideas. Even if nothing comes out of this that changes Quora (an implacable corporate entity); in fact even if nothing comes out of this that changes you: I’m happy if it changes me to the better.

Where I need changing, of course. Sometimes, I’m right!

I welcome discussion in comments, and I expect it to be nice and respectful and constructive. Not just because Quora says so. Not just because I say so. Not just because Jennifer is one of us. But because this is the salon of all of us, and we are all in this together.


You wrote above [with regard to the removal of Rage Against Quora] about your feeling/fear that something is going down with all this. In some ways I’ve felt for the past few days like I had an answer with no question to give it to, and I couldn’t make up my mind what the proper audience was. Big? Small? Dunno. You’re it. I hope, though, that the outcome will be a conversation.

The Quora path always weaves in and out of topics and occasionally eddies in one for a while. It’s true that since the TW awards I have become much more educated and aware of the dissatisfaction felt by a number of Quorans, what you refer to as your cynicism that is actually shared by many.

I have become more aware of the dissatisfaction than I previously had been, but I had seen snatches of it before. What is important to note is that what I had seen previously appeared to be on an individual basis, whereas now I am aware of what I will refer to (for lack of a better term) as the movement.

Occasional individual complaints? Oddities, imperfections — no system is perfect — things to tuck away as random notes for the future, etc. The movement? The movement is ugly. I haven’t been here long enough to know whether it is growing, or whether the rate of growth has picked up, but if that is the case then you are right to say that something is going down, and that something will likely not be good for Quora, in my opinion.

You are worried about your cynicism detracting from my experience, but if the movement is growing bigger then the problem is that eventually it will become big enough that it will not be possible to miss it even for the casually unaware user that I was a month ago. It will detract from their experience. Quora-the-business will not be able to tolerate that, and they will move strongly to stamp it out.

Ugly is a strong word but also a general one; let me tell you what the movement feels like to me. It feels like the neighborhood gang that goes into a neighborhood coffee shop that is a popular social spot and takes over a table in the corner. The members catcall the waitstaff and treat them inappropriately. Despite the fact that they come every day, they insult the food, the menu pricing, and the decor loudly, and leave trash on the floor. They occasionally get into a brawl where the police get called, and then come back the next day and spend a lot of time talking about how crazy it was that anyone could object to their behavior.

I’m sure you can see easily from this analogy that if this gang comes during the doldrums of the afternoon when other customers aren’t present, the owner may value the business enough to ignore the behavior. However, if they start coming during the dinner rush, the owner will be forced to remove or ban them, lest they drive away the mainstay of the business.

My response:

One of the most effective ways to get me to sit up and take notice is when you take one of the analogies I’m so proud of, and use it to counter my argument.

I came up with the Salon analogy at I will not hit your Report button, which was the very start of me complaining publicly about Quora. In my view of things, I was having a civil discussion with intellectual friends, when rent-a-cops barged in and pulled some of my friends away, with no explanation. And that the good and moral thing for me to do was to educate myself on what has been happening, and join my voice in the protest against injustice. You can read my tortuous path on the rest of The Insurgency.

Jennifer likes my Salon analogy, as she will note in the next excerpt; she is taking my Salon and moving it to a Cafe, which is cool. But that’s not what she sees. She sees a bunch of hooligans taking over several tables in the cafe, and being general nuisances if not assholes. In the cartoon above, I’ve taken her Cafe and moved it on to Doc’s Drugstore in West Side Story.

Jennifer makes three points, which make me respond in different ways.

The first is that the relentless complaining is increasingly spilling over, from nooks and crannies like this or the Late Great Rage Against Quora, into the general reader experience, and that’s not what the general readership came here for. For that matter, I don’t believe it’s what any of us came here for. Like I said to Abd Ul-Rahman. I didn’t join Quora so that I could protest administrative policies. There are real problems, but the complaining about problems can easily end up being more annoying to the casual user than the problems themselves. And they certainly aren’t effective recruitment.

This is fair, and I’ve been guilty of “can’t find a link, because Quora Search” on more than one occasion. There are places that are more appropriate than others for venting, and appending a Carthage Must Be Destroyed to every answer on historical linguistics is not a constructive or moral thing to be doing. (Not that I do it, but I take Jennifer’s point.)

Jennifer and I are both business/systems analysts, so we like to have takeaway actions from meetings. So, my ACTION: continue to criticise, but don’t do it in places where it does not add value. Like answers on historical linguistics, say.

The second is that Quora will clamp down hard (or, as far as many of you are concerned, harder) on complainers, because their complaints drive away business. And that the complainers should make sure that what they say does not get them booted.

That people should abide with BNBR, I agree with, though I may have a narrower take on BNBR than you, as we discuss in the next section. That Quora will clamp down, I see as inevitable, because Quora is not our buddy and friend, D’Angelo doesn’t tuck us in bed at night, and Wacker does not draw up policy guidelines with a glitter pen on My Little Pony paper. Quora is a business, and a business has to ensure its profitability. Notwithstanding how questionable their path to profitability has been to date, having a bunch of people whine about how awful they are, and do so loudly, is not in their corporate interest.

You can retort (and many have) that antagonising your customers isn’t in their corporate interest either. My horrified realisation, which spurred me on to criticism, is that we’re not customers, we’re just users; so we’re not owed that accountability.

So for myself, as I said in my response to Abd Ul-Rahman, I’m not doing or saying anything in any hope that it will change things. What I do and say, I do and say so I can look myself in the mirror, as having done the right thing by my friends.

That’s already an ACTION, and it’s an action which Jennifer has an excellent retort to. (Achilleas has a related retort in his post.) We’ll come to that in the next post.

The third is that the tone of the sniping and negativity is thuggish.

Some of it isn’t. Some of it decidedly is. Some of it is well thought out and informed (whatever its tone). Some of it is just users complaining that they got caught.

Ironically, I have felt that I can’t call it out because *I* want to do BNBR, and because I want to show loyalty to the Insurgency, and because I’m a host of The Insurgents, and I can’t be challenging my guests. But as Jennifer points out, that’s not good enough: that makes me complicit. And the discussion on that is coming up in the next post.

More soon.

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