Quora Obtrudes

There has been an unusually high amount of push back for the rollout of removing question details, even by Quora standards. The discussion about what has been going on has been wide-ranging, and it has crystallized something for me.

I have been frequently repeating a comment I made a few days ago:

We obviously aren’t going to convert Quora to our mindset. All we can do is use Quora for our own ends; we ignore Quora’s ends where they diverge from ours, and we resist, as much as we can, Quora getting in the way of our ends.

What is clear is that Quora is getting in the way of many of us meeting our ends. Deliberately. And this makes the experience of Quora quite atypical for online fora. Time and again, in aspect after aspect, Quora the company obtrudes into the user’s experience of Quora the forum. Time and again, it gets in the way. Time and again, Quora the company is in conflict with its users.

Hanlon’s Razor dictates that this is likely not out of any malice, but rather mere neglect. The company just doesn’t care about its users, as they are product and not customers. And I’m not saying this as a protest any more; it’s merely an observation. In comparison with its peers, Quora is a presence obtruding over all components of our experience here.

Quora obtrudes in its Design. Its navigation is chronically counter-intuitive. It changes core functionality with startling rapidity, and with little explanation. This site is deluged with questions about how to use the site itself. Bug? or Feature? is not just a joke on this site: users are genuinely confused as to whether new functionality is intentional or not, and become paranoid about how to interpret it. Inasmuch as there is a discernible trend to the changes, it is to force the users to do what the company wants, rather than what the users prefer to do.

Quora obtrudes in its Engineering. Uses perpetually have to deal with refresh timeouts, perpetual scrolling, lost drafts, frequent downtime, and poor search. The gears and cranks are far more noticeable on this site than on its peers in recent memory: what other sites do you know of nowadays, that force you to do three refreshes a minute to get anything done?

Quora obtrudes in its Moderation. The policing of moderation is heavy handed, by common internet norms, and selective. The rules are vague and under-documented. Because of the studious lack of onboarding, users are always surprised on their first encounter with moderation, and they are almost always left at guessing as to what the nature of their infraction was. As a result, users are paranoid that they will be the next to be randomly picked out for sanction.

Quora obtrudes in its Incentivisation. The Top Writer program set up an arbitrary division between haves and have-nots, with no clarity about what it takes to move across. Many Top Writers perpetuate the notion that only they as a group are worth reading. (Two instances that I found particularily offensive occurred in comments to the details removal announcement.) Quora outreach, limited as it is, is restricted to Top Writers. Far from acting as an incentive, the Quill has been a source of resentment, and there are now a non-negligible number of users who have indicated they have no interest in pursuing it. (See responses to What do very popular non-Top Writers think they’d need to change in order to become Top Writers? I am far from the only one.)

Quora obtrudes in its Mission. Quora’s mission, it now seems, is to get clickbait answers to canonical questions. Its users’ sundry missions are to help querents, to share knowledge, and to form communities. Quora doesn’t tolerate this as an outgrowth of its mission; it actively hammers the UX to bring users back into line. And with its opaqueness and reluctance to communicate, Quora does little to encourage writers to buy in to its mission. (Short of the early adopters, I guess.)

The retort whenever anyone complains about Quora is, it’s a private company. Of course it is. No one put a gun to my head, to make me contribute my content, to the greater profit of Quora’s eventual shareholders. If I don’t like it, I can leave.

And eventually, I surmise, I will. I definitely will, if comments or blogs are taken away. And I’ll be taking my content with me: if I decide I can’t stay, I don’t see why my content should continue enriching Quora’s eventual shareholders. Mercifully, the Python Downloader more or less works still, nothwithstanding the constant tweaks in Quora HTML that frustrate it.

In the meanwhile, I seek to be aware of what’s happening, and to help others be aware. Not particularly to protest it, certainly not to change it, but because awareness is always a good thing. It’s why this blog exists, after all.

I have a question incidentally, which I would pose on the site, but the removal of Question Details has made me reluctant to. Are there other comparable sites, where the vision of the owners obtrudes as consistently on the user’s experience, as it does here?

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