This is the email circulating the Valley. The high profile venture capitalist's name has been redactedalong with that of the recipient.February 1, 2013[name redacted],Since you asked what I think about Quora and its latest pivot, here's my answer. It's probably far morethan you expected but bear with me.From its early days the big question about this site has been "can an almost unlimited supply of SiliconValley cash and hype turn a mediocre idea into a success?" The question certainly needs to be addressedagain now that Quora has made yet another desperate business model pivot into a blogging platform.Before that Quora was going to be a Pinterest knock-off. Before that it was going to be a Q&A site tocompete with Wikipedia. There have been one or two other lesser pivots that I have lost track of since2009, but you get the picture. This executive team is clueless.It's really been no secret in the Valley that Quora's been a slow motion train wreck since pretty much2010. The sole reason it's survived this long is due to the deep pockets of some of its founders. In anutshell, a group of ex-Facebookers, who had cashed out, decided that more fast money could be madeby starting a for-profit version of Wikipedia with the end game being to eventually IPO-it. However, anyprofit sharing would be limited to the founders and not the actual content creators. Quora's philosophycan be summed up as why should the serfs get a share if they were dumb enough to work for free in thefirst place? This attitude leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.And so was launched what is perhaps the most arrogant site in Internet history. Veteran observers couldsee as far back as 2010 that it was going to have difficulty in justifying its existence considering theplethora of better communities and more focused resources. Quora has always been a solution lookingfor a problem to latch itself onto. However, while Wikipedia has matured into a citable resource, at leastfor high-school assignments, Quora has only succeeded in cultivating an image as the place wherechronic windbags and lime-light seekers hold court all day.So now we are all supposed to brace ourselves for the thundering stampede of bloggers as they desertWordPress and Typepad in order to contribute, for free, yet more content to Quora?As you asked, could this pivot just be the latest in a long list failures for Quora?
To answer the question, let's take a look at some of the reasons why Quora has failed so far despite allthe money and hype it received early on. While I am only speaking for myself here, there are no doubtmany other former and current Quorans who will agree with much of the following assessment.
A Bad User Experience
In return for investing long hours to generate unpaid content for Quora, members are rewarded with aan unpleasant overall user experience, which has been reported endlessly by others online. This is nohyperbole. Let's take a look at what people object to:
The No Humor Rule:
Humor is a de facto taboo on Quora. While the occasional demonstration of witwill evoke no more than a scowl and shake of the head from the community, more regular use will drawa barrage of down votes and risk the possibility of banishment. The staff attempts to deny that this istrue but fails to convince anyone. Many Quorans simply don't appreciate humor and will automaticallydown vote any post that contains it. The most common argument proffered for this norm is thatsomeone in a faraway place, such as Helmand Province or central New Guinea, may not get the joke. Isthis really a sufficient reason to force people not to inject a bit of wit into a post considering that 90% of the audience is American? The arguments over the use of humor are endless on Quora.The end result is that Quora often feels like a meeting of the campus Young Marxist-Feminists Alliance.
The Be Nice at All Costs Rule:
Far worse than the No Humor Rule is the Be Nice at All Costs Rule whichhas done more to destroy any value Quora might have had than anything else. The rule was introducedto appease the "soccer mom wave" of membership that washed over the site in 2011. This influx had aprofound impact on the community transforming it from a place where, in theory at least, busy peopleexchanged information and advice to one where the imperative became to simply make everyone feelwelcomed, supported, and mollycoddled no matter how vapid their contributions happened to be.
Speaking of vapid, despite the founders' intentions of building a high-brow forum,Quora quickly became inundated with endless, mind-numblingly, stupid discussions such "Who is themost charming Quorite?", "Who is the friendliest Quorite?", "Who is your favorite Quorite?", "Who isthe hottest Quorite?", "Help! My boyfriend is addicted to Quora, and I don't know what to do!", adnauseam.There is really only so much of this garbage that anyone can take.The community also suffers badly from a nauseatingly high level of self-congratulatory "Look at howsmart we all are!" posts. One post in 2010 breathlessly exclaimed "Wow! Another Quorite helped me to
solve a problem!" No doubt this person has never heard of the Internet where this happens about tenmillion times per hour, on average. Quora's fanbase loves to look down its nose at Yahoo Answers butthe differences are often minimal.
Another serious problem with Quora is that it allows staff and volunteers withstrong ideological biases to "moderate" forums that they really should have the integrity to recuesthemselves from. This can lead to harassment of members with opposing views on the subject matter.People posting anonymously have been "outed" by spiteful moderators.It should be added here that politically speaking, Quora is to the left as Townhall is to the right. If you'rea moderate you won't feel comfortable with much of what goes at either site. Practically every out-of-the-closet conservative or Republican Quoran has been either banned or chased off the site.How Quora manages to retain business-people and moderates as members considering its extremepolitical slant remains one of life's mysteries.
The Broken Promise of Anonymity:
Quora claims to offer users the option of posting anonymously.Veteran Internet users understand and appreciate that one of the most important benefits of theInternet is the ability to ask and answer tough or delicate questions anonymously. UnfortunatelyQuora's for-profit business model requires that identifiable and, hopefully, expert members are seenanswering questions. An anonymous answer from a leading authority doesn't have the same beneficialeffect on its valuation as does a mediocre one from a B-list celebrity.
The effect has been an aggressive push to drive off users who prefer to post anonymously. What'smostly left now are the attention and acknowledgement cravers.
Political Correctness Run Amok
: The political correctness on Quora often reaches levels where it feelsas if it will make your eyes bleed, even if you're socially liberal. For example, Quora quickly became
place to congregate for people fighting the good fight to turn all public toilets around the globe coed. It'sdifficult to tell whether these people are simply misguided activists or just a particularly sad group of fetishists. One also has to wonder if there are fifty people on planet Earth for whom this is an actualissue.Quora is also a popular spot for privileged young women, frequently newly graduated from Ivy Leagueschools, to kvetch about how much tougher they have it in life than, say, poor white males working inKentucky coal mines. They join the professional victim wing of Feminism to carpet-bomb the site withabsurd questions asking "Is X misogynistic?" [Insert any noun for "X."] Everything under the sun is
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