What do you think of the Urban Dictionary’s definitions of Quora? If you added your own definition, what would it be?

Whenever I see too many people agreeing on something in their own interest here, I grow contrarian. It brings out the inner Michaelis Maus in me; there are uses to nihilism.

Others have spoken well, and to applause, about the anti-intellectualism and bias of the Urban Dictionary definitions. Michael Masiello has conceded in comments that there is plenty of vapidity on Quora, but that the anti-intellectualism of the Urban Dictionary definitions is the greater enemy.

I’ve given up on anti-intellectualism as something I can have any engagement with. Fight with the dullards of Urban Dictionary? Why bother? As we say in Greek, “from the miller’s wife’s arse, one expects no orthography.” But I do expect better of the vapid than of the stupid, and I’m going to be contrarian about this.

I’ll do my own close reading of the infamous first definition, and I’ll ignore its stylistic infelicities:

The internet’s self-conscious act of intellectual validity and authority.

Well, https://www.quora.com/about:

Quora’s mission is to share and grow the world’s knowledge. […] We want to connect the people who have knowledge to the people who need it, to bring together people with different perspectives so they can understand each other better, and to empower everyone to share their knowledge for the benefit of the rest of the world.

Quora Inc claims authority, and markets itself as such—whatever its actual users are doing. There’s a fair bit of hubris in that mission, and in those aligning to that mission—particularly in the notion (naive in so many fields) that there is a best or right answer to a question, and that that answer is to be had here.

Unsurprisingly primarily self-centered and authoritarian instead of rational.

This could be the response of a disgruntled libertarian, but the same Quora Inc would tell you that the Quora users had no business making the libertarian feel like that to begin with, because users should be made to feel welcome regardless of their ideology: hence Bodnick saying that BNBR applied to Trump during the election campaign.

Appeal to authority, to self-interest, or to one’s own righteousness in political debate are certainly nothing to take pride in—even if right wingers’ construct of “rationality” is often blinkered.

Some of the more objective or positive entries might at first make one assume that most people there are not just as insufferable as anywhere else and like any community on the internet,

Hold on to that concession. Have we not all felt that Quora is better than other fora, because of the elevated level of discourse, the relative civility, the conscious exercise of scholarship and objectivity?

albeit maybe at the same time with an even more all-encompassing entitlement and smug self-satisfaction.

… and have we then not all been disappointed to see that some popular writers here are still smug, self-righteous, know-it-alls speaking outside their domains of knowledge, and hostile to any questioning of their premises?

Surely it isn’t just me.

And assume that the triviality of most of the questions would be self-aware and not lost on most of the people.

The bizarre use of “self-aware” notwithstanding, have users not been complaining about the quality of questions, and political questions particularly, for years?

Highly restrictive, not only in the artificial question and answer format,

Is the Q & A format not restrictive? Quora is not Medium; that’s why blogs on Quora exist. That’s why plenty of users use the questions as springboards rather than as requests for information. And let’s not even get started on Survey Questions, solicitations of anecdote rather than answers to questions—which are so contrary to what Quora thought it was about, they were on limdist for the first few years of the site.

You can retort that if you came to write on Quora, you came to answer questions, and if you want Medium, you know where to find it; yet there is clear evidence here of people wiggling against those constraints.

but also the ultra-strict length limitations

Hands up who has come up against the length limits on questions or question details. Even if you accept the rationale for them, they are restrictive, and Quora users feel those restrictions.

and rampant auto-correct functions, Content Review and straightforward censorship.

I’ve seen answers decrying the protest against censorship, as being democratic or in the cause of moderation decency. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone praising Quora’s auto-correct, topic bot, and certainly not Quora Content Review. And radicals of both left and right will tell you how tone policing and sanctions on speech is a repressive instrument that quashes dissent and advocacy of change.

I think BNBR is overall a useful thing too, sure; but do not pretend BNBR is politically neutral, or that Silicon Valley corporations are, just because they aren’t an arm of the US Government.

Moderation is more concerned with keeping up appearances than with moral tasks, consistency and transparency.

I’m actually not convinced Moderation is particularly concerned with appearances either, although I can see why a right-winger taken to task for the vehemence of their opinions might think so. And I certainly would not entrust morality policing to Quora moderators or mod bots, just as Quora itself is reluctant to.

But complaints about Moderation consistency are legion, and have been for years; and Moderation is notoriously not transparent by design.

Sanctimonious, arrogant, prejudiced and irrational and with a cult-like devotion to their brand and policy taken literally and subjectively.

I’ve seen all of this here. Again: haven’t you?

Actual psychopaths, either self-proclaimed in order to effectively show off or those whose practices are harboured there, are the hipsters of the place.

… Yeah, ok, that last bit made no sense. 🙂

And what would I offer to Urban Dictionary?

To its users, Quora is a site where people who think they are clever write essays answering questions. Often in dot points, sometimes good. Quora is smarter than Yahoo Answers, more unfocussed than Stack Exchange, and less free-flowing than Reddit.

To its owners, Quora is a Google Trap that is going to make them gajillions of bucks in perpetuity.

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