There's certainly been an influx to the question and answer site over the past week, especially by journalists. It might be because various sites singled out Quora, launched in December 2009 by former Facebook executives Charlie Cheever and Adam D'Angelo, as "the new Twitter" in their predictions for 2011.
Quora is a tech journalist's utopia, but as more and more media professionals join, the question will be whether it can benefit journalism at large.
Techcrunch's MG Siegler was recently accused of rehashing Quora discussions in his Techcrunch posts by search engine professional Elias Bizannes. (Siegler had been Both Siegler's and Bizanne's blog posts are worth reading in full). Seigler claims Quora has become a valuable source for story leads, likening his use of Quora to the way journalists use Twitter as a source for ideas, stories and sources.
Quora combines a social graph (it allows you to follow people in the same way as Twitter, and connect with the people you follow on other networks) with an interest graph (it allows you to follow the topics and/or questions that interest you).
But it is the current user base, with lots of Silicon Valley and
other internet start-up executives participating in discussions and
willingly answering questions, that makes Quora such a useful place to
be for tech writers, something that might change as the site becomes
more popular and attracts a more diverse group of readers.
As more journalists have joined the network over the last week there has been a surge in journalism related questions and discussions. If your beat is among those discussed there, the site can be extremely useful for access, ideas, story leads, networking and crowd sourcing. In other words, much of the same things as Twitter, but not confined to 140 characters.
However, for the general news reporter there seems to be very little use of the site other than as a way to keep up to date on social networking trends. Previously, we have seen similar sites, such as Yahoo Answers, Malaho and Aardvark, fail to take off and, in the case of Yahoo Answers, seeing a rapid decline in the quality of responses as it grew bigger. That's a cost of success that may come to haunt Quora as well.
There are signs on Quora of a social medium about to go mainstream. More than one Q&A by 'Quora veterans', for example, listing up the site's guidelines and strongly encouraging newcomers to listen and acquaint themselves with the site's culture before starting to ask all sorts of questions.
Quora could, as some have predicted, turn out to be a big hit among tech-opiners and then be over before the average consumer has even caught a whiff of it. For my part, as a tech writer, I love the site, only constant deadline pressure prevents me from spending entire days there. It has made me more positive to the prospects of Facebook questions, yet to be launched in Europe, potentially being useful.
But should most of the world's journalists invade, it remains to be seen how long big shots find Quora an attractive place to be.