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Why Quora Won’t Scale Formatted: Font: 16 pt
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Introduction Formatted: Heading 2
Quora is a hybrid between a Q&A site and a social networking site, and the way it’s designed, has Formatted: Space After: 12 pt
inspired various clones, tech bloggers speaking within it from a pedestal with ordinary civilians
hoping to follow their lead, and bizarre questions which verge on the obscure and deviant. But
little is known about how Quora is run. Its community remains foreign to the few tech bloggers
who know about it, as they hardly use it, and its functionality remains unknown to the general
public. Yet Quora has been tipped to be the next best thing since Facebook and Twitter, despite
many people having used the site more often, who disagree.

Let’s get into how Quora is run, and the inner workings of the moderation and congregation of
groups, that dramatically effects the melting pot of ideas and how they come into play. It’s time for
an inside look, endorsed by the people who were there, who have experienced it for themselves.

There is a theory within media called the Spiral of Silence theory. Quora is a perfect example of the
Spiral of Silence media theory. The phrase "spiral of silence" actually refers to how people tend to Formatted: Font: Italic
remain silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. The model is based on three
premises: 1) people have a "quasi-statistical organ," a sixth-sense if you will, which allows them to
know the prevailing public opinion, even without access to polls, 2) people have a fear of isolation
and know what behaviors will increase their likelihood of being socially isolated, and 3) people
are reticent to express their minority views, primarily out of fear of being isolated.

It is the three premises in moderation, which allows the theory to hold into place. If there is
nothing protecting the people with minority views, who also happen to be attacked for these
views, in the process, that allows the theory to take into effect. Quora is a website that not only has
the Spiral of Silence, but also encourages its conception, and this article aims to address that and
explain hopefully why that is.

Typically throughout society, Tthe closer a person believes the opinion held is similar to the
prevailing public opinion, the more they are willing to openly disclose that opinion in public. Then,
if public sentiment changes, the person will recognize that the opinion is less in favor and will be
less willing to express that opinion publicly. As the perceived distance between public opinion and
a person's personal opinion grows, the more unlikely the person is to express their opinion.

What is important, is that even if people’s views are in the minority, that they are not reprimanded
for these views, as harmless as they may be.
Policy Formatted: Heading 2

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Right now Quora still exists primarily in the Silicon Valley echo chamber, and its most power Formatted: Space After: 12 pt
wielding users intend to keep it that way. The number 1 topic on the site is Startups. The Silicon
Valley IT crowd proliferate the site, and to keep it that way, grip it by its claws. Too often, once
new or frequent users outside the inner circle begin to make a mark, such as rising to best
answerer in topics where insiders rule, garnering up votes too easily, albeit deservedly, or by
questioning methodology and moderation, a backlash quickly ensues, and these users find
themselves down voted to the point of having their answers collapsed into oblivion, and then they Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
are aggressively pursued and forced to defend their contributions thereafter. This has been (Cambria), 12 pt

compared to a high school fraternity pack that targets threats and outspoken people, with their
pecking order.

Once pegged by the core, adding even the most innocuous of answers invites, at the very least, a
mass of down votes, at worst, a comment stream of accusations and insults or being blocked or
banned without explanation. Even when valid research is cited, the inners will dispute it in gang-
like form, accusing the user of spreading misinformation when it suits them, which is actually
quite dangerous and undermines the goal of spreading knowledge. The slew of catharsis of a
power user, systematically outshines the light of a normal user, for example when Oone user with
a broad fan base describes the New York Times as “sensationalist.” in order to dispute a source in Formatted: Font: Italic
order to undermine someone. Going by words alone, it would be safe to say that the general Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
consensus of Quora, would be to say that Self-interest trumps knowledge on Quora. self-interest (Cambria), 12 pt, Italic
trumps verified knowledge on Quora. The people who are intransigentically bound, are
systematically encouraged on Quora, it seems.

When tech enthusiast, Robert Scoble, enthusiastically signed-on to Quora, he boasted the highest
number of followers and quickly rose to top answerer in the technology category. Almost
immediately, he was chastised in a scathing post by an insider entitled, Sorry, Scoble, This Isn’t Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
Your Playground, when the simple fact is that Quora’s own methodology of importing a user’s (Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic

social graph was to blame for his posing a threat to the core. Is such a message duplicitous,
considering that a tech enthusiast himself, known in Silicon Valley, wrote the post?

In another unfortunate incident, a Quora admin quickly pointed to one user’s answer as being the
same as another user’s answer to the same question, who also happens to be an admin. The Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: (Default)
admin’s answer has been up voted to the highest position. The difference is that the user in +Body (Cambria), 12 pt

question cited the original source whereas the admin did not. After the user contested this
publicly, the admin simply updated his answer at the bottom to include the original source, whilst
continuing to insist that his answer was an invention his own imagination and the likeness to the
source simply coincidental—little more than a hand slap (being asked to add the source) for an
admin who very likely plagiarized. The answer submitted by the user who cited the original
source has been subsequently collapsed, and the user blocked.

Contradictory and hypocritical behavior abounds on Quora, starting with its aim “to be the easiest
place to write new content and share content from the web.” There is nothing easy about Quora
when a user, quite innocently, steps on the toes of one of its core members. One insider responded
to a new user’s initial impressions by telling her, “You are bringing a knife to a gunfight.” Another Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
Quora user, now banned without a prior disclosed reason, says “The law is powerless to help you, (Cambria), 12 pt

not to protect you.”

When insiders employ humor, it is considered wit, but humorous and creative entries by others
are collapsed often citing irrelevance. Many active users outside the core compare the atmosphere
to being back in high school. Attempts to question flawed methodologies such as strategic up Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
voting, transparency in down voting (at least one Quora admin belongs to a secret down voting (Cambria), 12 pt

cable comprised of insiders), the ad hoc application of the Be Nice policy (which one particularly Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
combative power-user vehemently advocated doing away with), haphazard application of editing (Cambria), 12 pt
standards and moderation, are either swiftly discredited or ignored. Some admins even claim that Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
most of the wider community doesn’t even care about these issues, and they seem quite happy to (Cambria), 12 pt
keep it that way, rather than elicit true community spirit and involvement. Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
(Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic
Could it be so that if an outsider had made the Downvote Cabal, that they would have been
clamped down on as soon as it started, considering the wealth of questions which question its
existence and contradiction with the Be Nice rule, admist the top answers from the inside crowd,
endorsing the private board to stay.

Quora admins are also quick to remind users that Quora is not a democracy. Indeed, Quora Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
operates much like an authoritarian dictatorship, not immune to censoring, blocking and banning (Cambria), 12 pt

users from adding content in an attempt to silence dissenting opinion, prevent legitimate
challenges to the status-quo or maintain an insider’s position as the leading authority on any given
subject. To sum it up in one word, the word is totalitarian. “Everything within the state, nothing Formatted: Font: Italic
outside the state, nothing against the state.” Anyone who dismisses aspects of Quora or how it is Formatted: Font: Italic
run, is met with the upmost contempt from the pack. Yet discriminatory, racist-leaning questions
based on broad stereotypes are left untouched, like such as Why do Black People like Grape Juice? Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
and Why do Lesbians Wear Men’s Jeans? (Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic

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(Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic
Additionally, admins and moderators use topic categories strategically, either to render a question
invisible or to promote a question based on self-interest. Topics most often tagged to questions
regarding widespread, underhanded practices by insiders are Questions that Contain
Assumptions, Needs Attention (which renders the question nearly invisible) and Rhetorical Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
Questions. But questions like, Why do Americans hate the French? are somehow considered (Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic
unassuming. Formatted: Font: Not Italic
Whether this slipped under the radar or not, such questions which may cause offence for a
discriminative sweeping statement nature, are not given limited distribution such as the questions
about Quora, among other questions about subject nature that admins do not like.

Have you heard of a social network before for adults, where content is screened but without any
clear yet most ambiguous rules to govern so? The Be Nice rule, which allows anyone to interpret it
any way they choose, rendering it the most ambiguous rule in the world. Doubled with a stark
refusal to comment on infractions, warnings and bans, and a refusal to give prior notice to why
such chastising actions were given, sets the stage for a vendetta closed box justice system.

In addition to this, Quora is known to censor questions they don’t like with the limited distribution
topics such as Needs Attention or Needs Improvement. Such acts are typically done on questions
which question why certain members of the community get banned, as its haphazard Be Nice rule
temporarily and later permanently bans people for their content without a prior disclosed reason,
for such arbitrary reasons which are most often not known to the users subject to these bans,
themselves.

Plus, the Quora Community topic, which has a huge following, must be approved of before being
added to any given question, and is applied discriminately. This pre-screening of questions
doubled with the censorship of questioning moderation topics such as bans, unfair downvotes,
and often bullying, creates a serious prescendent which leads Quora down a tragic slippery slope
which it has already got itself down in. Often search within Quora fails to render results to
questions that admins don’t like, such as Are Quorans Provincial, and hyperlinks to inconvenient Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
content mysteriously removed. (Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic

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Not only are there ethical implications of ranking people based on quality, however nicely this fits
into the elitist dogma, the system itself gives unfair advantage to insiders. One insider recently
described PeopleRank this way, “given the mass of down votes [he] was getting on comments and Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: +Body
other places, [he] didn't have to be down voted for individual answers. PeopleRank is dynamic, (Cambria), 12 pt

and given enough down voting, [his] default buoyancy on a page would have been growing lower Formatted: Font:
all across the board.” (Or rather all across Quora, for all [his] answers.) So, when the herd swoops
in on someone with down votes for ingenuous reasons, a user is essentially discredited around the
entire site and unable to gain visibility thereafter, no matter how qualified. Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: (Default)
+Body (Cambria), 12 pt

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Insiders name call, insult and bully users into obscurity and even brag about successful attempts
to intimidate users into leaving Quora altogether. Admins have blocked creative contributors or Formatted: Font:
those who make general observations of injustices citing violations of the Be Nice policy, and send Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: (Default)
warnings to active and popular contributors who are sympathetic. +Body (Cambria), 12 pt

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Finally, most of Quora’s newest, most interesting and intelligent users live outside the United
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States. Qquestions about internationalization receive little more than lip-service, despite the +Body (Cambria), 12 pt
obvious: the international community is vital, not only for adding knowledge but for expansion.
Foreign language use is still not permitted on Quora, and questions inside topics for other
countries, rarely receive attention.

Conclusion Formatted: Font: +Body (Cambria), 12 pt
One thoughtful and highly credible user from Quebec made the following observations in his post, Formatted: Heading 1
What Aspects of Quora Make it Antisocial: Formatted: Font:
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Some of my comments about Quora are about mere annoyances but I do think there's a deeper Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: (Default)
+Body (Cambria), 12 pt, Not Italic
social disruption in at least two directions. One is toward less openness, less conversation, more
control, and more hierarchy. That's not the type of social structure I think appropriate, in the Formatted: Font:
current context. The other is toward a breakdown in some social relationships, especially in terms Formatted: Indent: Left: 0", Space After: 12 pt
of the divisiveness I observe. No matter how nice people's goals are, the lines of demarcation
drawn by Quora make for something closer to conflict than thoughtful engagement in intellectual
pursuits.

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An overemphasis on alleged “expertise,” a strange form of credentialism, a “following push” Formatted: Indent: Left: 0", Space After: 12 pt
reminiscent of early Facebook apps, a patronizing tutorial and quiz on asking questions the Quora Formatted: Default Paragraph Font, Font: (Default)
way, a total disregard for the diverse ways people use questions to establish rapport, lack of true +Body (Cambria), 12 pt
social engagement, a voting system which encourages self-promotion, and the attitude some Formatted: Font:
“experienced Quora users” have of brushing off criticism as coming from people who “just don’t
get it.”

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So why won’t Quora scale? The simple answer is it doesn’t want to. Scaling implies a significant
change in the rules of engagement. The protocols employed by Quora power-users, the self- Formatted: Font color: Auto
proclaimed elite who dominate the site—made up of early adopters and its numerous admins and
reviewers—are prohibiting Quora from growing its community in any meaningful way and thus
Quora’s most invested users are actually working against the best interests of Quora. It deters the
people who wish to participate, leaving the website stagnant.

Plus, the spiral of silence dynamic and non-transparency in down voting encourages anonymity in Formatted: Font: Not Italic
areas where it is less warranted, and while fake profiles are frowned upon or banned, anonymity
is rampant and celebrated. Users who exhibit transparency in genuine attempts to contribute to
improving Quora are targeted, more often seen as troublemakers than potential allies.

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